If there’s one thing in Hollywood that gets on my nerves, it’s the “Inspired by a True Story” label on films. Not even close enough to be “Based on a True Story,” these inspired tales twist the truth so much that we’re left with just a sparkle of truth in a morass of made up crap.
This is the biggest problem with the new film 21, which tells the story of a group of MIT students who work with a professor to perfect a system of card counting for blackjack. The kids travel to Vegas on the weekends and clean.
While I’ve never read the book on which this film is based, I’ve looked into it. (Hey, I can use Wikipedia, after all.) Aside from the fact that the movie condenses time so much that it makes the MIT Blackjack Team look like instant successes (which they weren’t).
In reality, the MIT Blackjack Team worked on this for years, and they spread around their wins in Atlantic City, riverboat casinos and even international destinations. In the movie, they stick to just a few casinos on the strip that haven’t converted to facial recognition security.
While the actual concept and events in the film are real, they have been so gussied up with glitz and flash that we lose the essence of the drama. It tries to be as slick and as cool as an MTV music video, but it completely busts. Then the movie goes from silly to just ridiculous when it heads full-force into the realm of Oceans Wannabe and tacks on a terribly predictable ending that never quite works.
A few years back, The Exorcism of Emily Rose was released, and it featured a very prominent scene in a courtroom. However, the courtroom logic was so bad it didn’t even follow the cheesy rules of prime-time television. The movie suffered because anyone who watches Law and Order or Matlock would see through the plot holes.
Similarly, 21 tries so hard to be flashy and stylish that it violates even someone’s poor knowledge of Vegas. Heck, it doesn’t even look like the filmmakers watched Martin Scorsese’s Casino let alone really researched how a real casino works.
I’ve been to Vegas many times, and I can guarantee that a chump who always conspicuously folds his or her hands when the table goes “hot” would stand out like a sore thumb. The same goes for the chumps who blurt out random sentences like “Hey, I read about this place in a magazine” or “Sweet! This drink is too sweet!” as soon as the big winner sits down.
The MIT Blackjack Team in the film says they use disguises, but they never actually wear them. They say they’re going to be inconspicuous, yet they show up at the tables wearing rejected wardrobe from The Matrix and yell “Winner! Winner! Chicken dinner!” on every blackjack dealt. They say they will exist under the radar, yet they make a big show of themselves, know the hotel manager by name and flash their winnings around the few casinos they hit like a drunk frat guy at a strip club.
Ultimately, it’s no big surprise what this movie becomes when you look at the director’s resume. Previous films include the cute-but-bubbly Legally Blonde and the stinkers Win a Date with Tad Hamilton! and Monster-in-Law. He’s trying to make a cotton candy film when a real gritty and down-to-earth angle would have worked so much better.
THE UPSIDE: The actual blackjack sequences are quite well done.
THE DOWNSIDE: As presented in the movie, this could never work.
ON THE SIDE: The actual MIT Blackjack Team comprised only Asian students, who have been critical of the film’s white cast. They claim that white kids winning big at tables is terribly conspicuous, but Asians winning big at tables don’t raise warning flags.