Why I hated “21”

Girl cons boy, boy cons himself, teacher cons boy, Fishburne cons them all.

I usually stop myself from saying the word hate, it’s not a word that I enjoy using and when I use it I often regret it. It brings so many negative connotations and I dislike taking that tact with other creative people in the industry, it’s just in poor taste.

In fact I don’t like even seeing the word on my blog.

But there are times when such a word is the only one to describe what a film makes a viewer feel and it fits into the rating system that I have employed here at my blog.

What makes me feel this dreaded word from the film called 21?

It’s about another word that I have grown to dislike, cliché.

This is a script riddled in clichés, cliches surrounding clichés. Even the so called obligatory turnaround that is so cliched in movie trends now, is a cliché of itself.

The cliché of the beautiful girl Kate Bosworth (Jill Taylor) drawing  the lonely Ben Campbell (Jim Sturgess) into a situation he can’t handle: counting cards in Las Vegas for his morally bankrupt MIT professor Micky Rosa (Kevin Spacey) and his poorly setup comedic relief troupe of sesame street wanna be card counters, only to figure out that his initial fears of the dangers in card counting are all too real as any MIT student can already tell you.

This movie had all the clichés to make you squirm in your seat and ask yourself, should I leave the theater? How much more of this can I take? Should I leave now?

I asked myself many times, but the disbelief made me stay. I had to know how many people werebe killed in this train wreak.

Supporting cast Laurence Fishburneplays a Casino floor manager with special skills at breaking people’s faces with knuckles and ringed fists, not as much fun as it sounds and I often felt like I was punched by the horrible blatant clichés in this movie.

Here is the short list of clichés:
Fast cut needless explanations of how the game 21 works: The exposition is brain draining to the point of a surgical procedure. If you don’t know how to play 21 then you shouldn’t be watching this movie, or they better find a better way of explaining it.

The wave from a girl that wasn’t meant for you: Kate waves to a boy, and Ben awkwardly waves back thinking wrongly it was him. Boy, was he embarrassed. OUCH, that hurt me.

Fat friend and geeks can’t get girls: The almost funny fat friend that can’t get a girl, and his geeky friend, they both stare at girls and make rude comments. Isn’t that fresh? No, it isn’t, not at all. You don’t write this stuff into a script, you cut and paste it.

The fake moral scene: Ben’s mom gives up her life savings for her son, he doesn’t take it. Why does he have no intention of paying his mom back when he is a doctor making millions? Because he is moral and this is the ultimate cliché to show that.

She pulls away from the kiss: Ben trys to kiss Kate and she pulls away, but why? Oh they work together and it wouldn’t be right. Only she later succumbs to Ben in of all places a Las Vegas strip joint where they never strip, how sweet. She must have been motivated by all the near naked strippers to change her mind, Vegas can do that to you I hear.

Drop your pants: He has to hide money in his pants to get on a plane, just so that one guy can say to the other, “ Drop your pants”. Why? Don’t they have banks in Las Vegas? But drop your pants is so funny, isn’t it?

Fooled you, he didn’t make it through, oh yes he did: Ben makes it through the metal detector only to be called back: “Sir”. What could this mean? Did they see the money bulge in his pants? No, he forgot his bag. It was such a cliché that people in the audience moaned it out before the security officer could. Now that’s a predictable cliché.

And does the amoral Professor Mickey Rosa get his in the end? Of course he does. It was telegraphed by the one dimensionality of Mickey’s character and when Lawrence tells Ben a story of how much he wants to see Mickey one more time, insinuating his ringed fist wants to visit Mickey’s face, you know there’s a blissful rendezvous in the future.

The final act turnaround becomes one giant cliché of the end shocker cliché in which the bad guy gets his just desserts and the MIT kids get away.

You will have seen this entire movie just by reading these clichés, and they hit at all the right spots, I mean all the wrong spots, because the audience knows when everything is going to hit, like in Vegas.

Someone is cheating. This isn’t writing, it’s a paint by numbers set. You know the ones they sell with sad clown faces and numbers in the outlined shapes?
Someone filled in these colors and hoped to make some money. And I hope that they did okay but not because it’s a good movie but because I’m a positive fellow.

I will say Kate Bosworth (Jill Taylor) is a true beauty with talent and I think if she had a script that wasn’t this foolish, she would really shine.

I can’t say the same about Jim Sturgess trying to cash in on his Toby Mcguire doughy good looks and bland nice guy delivery.

Spacey delivers his usual predictable I’m too smart for this world and society, angry guy with his own set of rules, to little effect. It barely fills the part and Spacey delivers it will little if no charm. At this point he could phone this performance in, ”You’re a kid, you don’t know the real world, I’m so much smarter than you”. There is no doubt from the moment you see him that he’s going to get screwed.

The rest of the talent look thrown onto the set and the director shot them when they weren’t looking and cut scenes together.

Even more strange is how the characters go against their own personalities. Ben, a frugal conservative guy, suddenly decides to completely change and become a gambler and con artist. I didn’t believe any of it. It would have to involve some serious drugs to turn this milksop MIT Harvard wanna be into a hard boiled “I can take a punch, con man”.

Jill also does a 360. It’s almost interesting that she grew up on Black Jack and her father was a professional gambler or that he made and lost a fortune playing it. She’s in it for life and it’s second nature, but suddenly she turns on Ben when he doesn’t want to quit and questions him about how he should go home and use his 300k to go to school as he promised. Isn’t she the one that tricked him into the whole situation with her feminine ways? I didn’t buy this change of heart at all.

Finally in the end, the supposed crafty, manipulative teacher completely falls for Ben’s scheme to get back into the con to entrap him, even after the teacher steals Ben’s money and destroys the kid’s future. Mickey doesn’t doubt Ben’s sincerity for a moment: that isn’t smart, that’s delusion and Mickey would have had to be smart to get away with all that he has in the past. Very out of character.

Stranger still is the blocking and actions are amateurish at best. An example is a scene when one of the sidekicks drunkenly, verbally attack Ben at a Casino BJ table blowing their cover.
Jill stares in disbelief from the next table. They love to stare at each other in this film.

Firstly these twenty somethings are not supposed to know each other, it’s a con and if they know each other, then they’re working together, they’re caught and the repercussions can be severe.
So Jill goes to Ben claiming that she had been looking everywhere for him and tries to pull him away when a second previously, she was staring right at him!

You can’t have it both ways.
And that is what the film tries to do, play all the angles and like in most gambling it doesn’t work.

The running time’s crazy on “21”, over 2 hours. It should have been cut to 90 minutes at best, but still very one dimensional characters for a no dimension story.
Stay home and save a few chips. If you’re feeling suicidal one night or want to drive people from your house, then you could rent it, I suppose.

2 thoughts on “Why I hated “21”

  1. Thank you for sparing me from seeing this flick! i think your review was more entertaining than the movie would have been, i found it honest and funny. I particularly liked your descriptions of the clichés of clichés. Predicting the predictable twists and turns, the copy and paste analogy is perfect for many movies nowadays. Nice to have a refreshing review of the truth 🙂


  2. Thanks for the post Jessie. Usually I shy away from such a negative review and I also usually give a REMIX of what should have been done, but in this case, there wasn’t anything. Except rewrite the script.


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