A review of “21” by Jeanne Aufmuth

 

Stars: ***

Rating: PG-13 for some violence and partial nudity

Run Time: 1 hour, 58 minutes

 

 

Jim Sturgess (“Across the Universe”) turns up the heat as an untapped genius who takes a walk on the wild side.

Ben Campbell (Sturgess) is a shy MIT senior who’s been accepted to Harvard Med but desperately needs a scholarship to make his dream come true.

Days are filled with classes on non-linear equations, geek time on engineering competition Project 209 and $8 an hour as assistant manager at J. Press Menswear.

Until the fateful day that math professor Mickey Rosa (Kevin Spacey) discovers that Ben has a brain like a Pentium chip and makes him an offer he can’t refuse: learn to count cards and make a killing in Vegas.

Ben’s goal is simple and his motives pure – study the tricks of the trade and work hard enough to generate $300K, enough to cover tuition and living expenses on the way to becoming Dr. Campbell.

Best laid plans begin to sour when a daily diet of vectors and formulas segue into high-roller suites, fantasy clubs and the irresistible lure of teammate cum sexy brain trust Jill Taylor (Kate Bosworth botoxed into a radiant mask of perfection).

Ultimately it blows sky high; Ben gets emotional and then gets stupid, burning the candle at both ends and allowing jealousy and greed to take the place of vigilance and common sense.

“21” is smart enough to methodically mine the illicit business of counting, a lively little enterprise. Plot generates sharp narrative comment on the downside of seduction and desire but an awkward climax puts idealistic spin on beating the odds.

Sturgess carries “21” to the finish – sweet, smart and charismatic. Scripting is tight and witty though skewing dangerously close to cliché. Supporting cast plays it cool – Spacey’s smug arrogance perfectly in keeping with character and Laurence Fishburne giving grit as a casino security thug.

And that’s entertainment.