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Robert Luketic
Kevin Spacey, Kate Bosworth, Jim Sturgess, Laurence Fishburne, Aaron Yoo, Liza Lapira, Jacob Pitts
Writing Credits:
Peter Steinfeld, Allan Loeb, Ben Mezrich (book, "Bringing Down the House: The Inside Story of Six M.I.T. Students Who Took Vegas for Millions")

Inspired by the true story of five students who changed the game forever.

Inspired by the true story of MIT students who mastered the art of card counting and took Vegas casinos for millions in winnings. Looking for a way to pay for tuition, Ben Campbell (Jim Sturgess) finds himself quietly recruited by MIT's most gifted students in a daring plot to break Vegas. With the help of a brilliant statistics professor (Kevin Spacey) and armed with fake IDs, intelligence and a complicated system of counting cards, Ben and his friends succeed in breaking the impenetrable casinos. Now, his challenge is keeping the numbers straight and staying one step ahead of the casinos before it all spirals out of control.

Box Office:
$35 million.
Opening Weekend
$24.105 million on 2648 screens.
Domestic Gross
$81.159 million.

Rated PG-13

Widescreen 2.40:1/16X9
English Dolby Digital 5.1
French Dolby Digital 5.1
Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1
Supplements Subtitles:

Runtime: 123 min.
Price: $34.95
Release Date: 7/22/2008

DVD One:
• Audio Commentary with Director Robert Luketic and Producers Dana Brunetti and Michael De Luca
• Previews
DVD Two:
• “21 - The Advantage Player” Featurette
• “Basic Strategy: A Complete Film Journal” Featurette
• “Money Plays: A Tour of the Good Life” Featurette
• Bonus Digital Copy


Panasonic 50" TH-50PZ77U 1080p Plasma Monitor; Harman/Kardon DPR 2005 7.1 Channel Receiver; Toshiba A-30 HD-DVD/1080p Upconverting DVD Player using HDMI outputs; Michael Green Revolution Cinema 6i Speakers (all five); Kenwood 1050SW 150-watt Subwoofer.


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21: Deluxe Edition (2008)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (July 7, 2008)

Who’d think a flick about college students who scammed casinos would become a hit? Although 2008’s 21 didn’t dominate the box office, it did pretty well for itself. The flick snared a more than decent $81 million and became a surprise success.

We meet Ben Campbell (Jim Sturgess), a shy MIT student who desperately needs money to fund his upcoming stint at Harvard Medical School. When his math skills impress Professor Micky Rosa (Kevin Spacey), his teacher introduces him to an underground blackjack club he runs. Rosa recruits his most talented students to beat the system and make oodles of money at casinos.

Ben initially resists Rosa’s pitch, but two factors change his mind. Long term, he really needs the bucks for Harvard, and short term, sexy teammate Jill Taylor (Kate Bosworth) lures him with implied romantic possibilities. Thus Ben becomes part of this gambling brain trust that tries to beat the system, something casino boss Cole Williams (Laurence Fishburne) tries to prevent.

With Legally Blonde as the most prominent entry on his résumé, director Robert Luketic seems like an odd choice to helm something like 21. While comedic at times, 21 musters more of a dramatic bent, so Luketic doesn’t seem like a logical choice for it.

That said, the director does just fine with the material. Perhaps his comedic side benefits him here, as it grants him a light tough for subjects that otherwise could’ve become too dark. While the flick digs into some sordid sequences, it stays peppy enough to keep our interest. Perhaps some think it should be a grim tale, but I don’t agree; I think it works best as a generally fun and frothy adventure, and Luketic keeps us in that mode much of the time.

Not that he reinvents any wheels. Indeed, the movie’s predictable nature stands as its biggest flaw. We’ve seen this kind of story many, many times over the years as an innocent buys into the high-life and suffers the inevitable downfall before a rebound occurs at the end. I hope that doesn’t sound like a spoiler, but honestly, I could tell you every plot point and I still don’t think I’d spoil anything; one can easily predict the path 21 will take just after seeing the trailer.

This predictable side mars the flick somewhat in its late second act, especially when that “inevitable downfall” occurs. The movie stutters at that point and threatens to lose us. It doesn’t, but it crawls more than I’d like.

Logic questions also come into play. For instance, with eight jillion casinos in Vegas, why do the students seem to only play at one? Why don’t they go to Atlantic City every once in a while? Why not change the signals occasionally to throw the hounds off the scent?

These concerns irritate but don’t significantly harm 21, as Luketic just keeps it too bright and fun too much of the time. A nice cast helps matters as well. Sturgess has a real Tobey Maguire vibe, but not in a copy-cat manner. He pulls off the nerdy math geek thing without being a stereotype and he transitions well into Ben’s cockier personality. Add to that solid pros like Spacey and Fishburne and the acting side of things satisfies. I must admit I’ve never quite viewed Bosworth as worthy of her mantle as Superbabe. She’s an attractive woman, but in a chilly, off-putting way that I think lacks much sex appeal. She just doesn’t exude much spirit as the object of Ben’s desire.

Still, I like most of 21. The movie suffers too many flaws to be a consistent winner, but the problems fail to harm it significantly. Instead, it comes through with breezy entertainment. It’s predictable but it’s fun.

The DVD Grades: Picture A-/ Audio B/ Bonus B-

21 appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 2.40:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. Across the board, the movie boasted a fine transfer.

Virtually no issues with sharpness materialized. Only a smidgen of softness ever appeared, as the majority of the flick looked concise and accurate. No signs of jagged edges or shimmering occurred, and I saw no edge enhancement. In addition, source flaws were absent from this clean presentation.

Colors tended toward the subdued side of the street. Of course, the Vegas scenes zapped us with some lively tones, though even those often tended to be a bit amber or gold tinted. Those tones dominated the film in a quiet manner. Within the design parameters, the hues seemed fine. Blacks were also deep and firm, and shadows looked smooth and clear. This image consistently impressed.

As for the Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack of 21, it was less stellar, but it worked fine for the movie. The soundfield tended to be ambience-oriented. Some exaggerated effects for card scenes added zip to the mix, and the casino floors also opened things up in an involving manner. Music showed good use of all the channels and became a dynamic part of the track. This wasn’t a stellar soundscape, but it brought some zip to the film.

Audio quality always seemed solid. Music was full and rich, with clear highs and tight lows. Effects sounded accurate and dynamic as well, and speech was good. Dialogue came across as natural and concise. The track lacked the ambition for a grade above a “B”, but it was more than acceptable for a flick of this sort.

For this two-disc edition of 21, we get a smattering of extras. On DVD One, we open with an audio commentary from director Robert Luketic and producers Dana Brunetti and Michael De Luca. All three sit together for this running, screen-specific chat that looks at cast and performances, sets and locations, how all the participants came to the project, aspects of card-playing, the adaptation of the source material, and a few other production topics.

The participants provide an enjoyable but generally insubstantial commentary. They touch on a reasonably number of useful subjects but don’t manage to bring a lot of depth to the affair. Still, they keep it breezy and entertaining, so it’s a pleasant listen.

A few ads open DVD One. We get clips for Blu-Ray Disc and The House Bunny. These also appear in the Previews area along with promos for Lakeview Terrace, Quarantine, CJ7, Prom Night, Across the Universe, the 21 soundtrack, The Other Boleyn Girl, Casino Royale, Married Life, Vantage Point, Persepolis, The Shield, Made of Honor,Rescue Me and Taking Five.

Over on DVD Two, we find three featurettes. 21 - The Advantage Player runs five minutes, 26 seconds and provides notes from various actors as they tell us a quick history of blackjack and the simple methods you can use to count cards. I guess that makes it 2008’s winner for the DVD Extra Most Likely to Get Your Thumbs Broken. Will the techniques work? Dunno, but it’s a fun little tutorial.

Basic Strategy: A Complete Film Journal runs 24 minutes, 47 seconds and features comments from Luketic, Brunetti, De Luca, novelist Ben Mezrich, original MIT student Jeff Ma, screenwriter Peter Steinfeld, technical advisor Kyle Morris, director of photography Russell Carpenter, production designer Missy Stewart, visual effects supervisor Gray Marshall, and actors Kevin Spacey, Laurence Fishburne, Jim Sturgess, Kate Bosworth, Aaron Yoo, Liza Lapira, and Jacob Pitts. We learn about the source novel and its adaptation, cast, characters and performances, aspects of the casinos and card-playing, cinematography and visual storytelling, shooting in Las Vegas and Boston, sets and locations, effects, and some general thoughts.

I wouldn’t actually call this program “complete”, but it provides a pretty good little overview. We find a mix of nice shots from the set as well as useful comments from those involved. The show creates a positive summary of the production and entertains along the way.

Finally, Money Plays: A Tour of the Good Life goes for seven minutes, eight seconds, and provides remarks from Stewart, Bosworth, Luketic, Sturgess, and costume designer Luca Mosca. “Tour” offers a basic glimpse of some visual design choices, primarily in terms of sets and clothes. It doesn’t tell us a lot, but Mosca does set a record for the number of times one person says “beautiful” in a short featurette; almost literally every sentence he utters includes that word.

DVD Two also includes a Digital Copy of 21. This lets you transfer the flick to your computer, iPhone, iPod or other modern gizmo the youngsters love. I’ll never use it, but it’s there if you want it.

Note that according to the press release, the Digital Copy stands as the only difference between the single-disc and the two-DVD versions of 21. That means your extra $6 goes strictly for the Digital Copy.

At no point should you expect 21 to dazzle you with originality or intelligence. However, it maintains a high entertainment factor that makes it enjoyable in spite of its flaws. The DVD provides excellent picture, solid audio and some interesting extras. This turns out to be a fine release for a pretty good movie.

Viewer Film Ratings: 4.3333 Stars Number of Votes: 6
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