Tuesday, April 1, 2008

21

Several years ago, in a short span of 48 hours, I zipped through the book, Bringing Down the House. And I rarely read books; it’s hard to find time when you watch 5-6 hours of TV a day. So you had to know Bringing Down the House was something special. It was the tale of a wicked smart kid from MIT who joins a secret blackjack team to take down Vegas. We learn the rules and strategies on how to beat the house. We also get to experience the glamour of Vegas; the main character takes on new personas each trip and parties with professional athletes and exotic women. The book was so good that after reading it, I booked a trip to Vegas, tried the methods myself, and lost $500.

In 2003, I was excited to learn Bringing Down the House was coming to a theatre nearest me. I was very confused when I saw Queen Latifah teaching Steve Martin how to be black. This was a very poor adaptation as this had nothing to do with the book. After forty minutes, I realized it was an entirely different movie.

Last Friday, the REAL Bringing Down the House finally came out; now titled 21. Based on the previews, my expectations were actually pretty low. It looked like they took the raw edginess of the book and glossed it over Hollywood-style. (i.e. In the commercial, they’re counting cards and the Asian girl says: “Dude, I lost count 5 cards ago”, and Kevin Spacey quips: “Don’t call me dude.”)

Unfortunately, I was right. After reading the book, 21 is kind’ve painful to watch. It’s over two hours long and nothing ever happens. There are some fun moments as the characters learn the system and apply it, but besides that…there’s not much else. They use special effects/fast cuts to make the cards look cool, but how many angles can you look at an Ace of spades before it gets old.

The movie decided that bringing down the house was not enough of a story. So they bring in Lawrence Fishburne as an old-school security man who’s being phased out. Somehow, he gets involved in the story. I was so confused by his presence in the movie that I kept thinking he was going to turn into Morpheus from The Matrix.

They had eight years to create a script, and it looks like it was put together the night before the shoot. The last thirty minutes are tacked on and have NOTHING to do with the rest of the movie (The reason could be because it wasn’t in the book.) In fact, the last five scenes are brutal.

The movie also took the Disney approach by explaining the rules of blackjack again and again. I know a Hollywood producer made that note on the script—‘people might not know how the game works so let’s have Kevin Spacey waste several scenes explaining it.’ Thanks, guys. Now I get it.

I’ll only rip the movie for one more thing: strip clubs. For some reason, the players rendezvous at a Vegas strip club. Since the movie is PG-13, they can’t show anything. As a fan of the occasional strip club, I find it offensive when movies depict strip clubs as an equivalent to a blacklit Hooters. It’s like watching Boogie Nights on TBS. It makes no sense. Either show something or don’t have scenes there.

I’ll end with a positive note. This movie is not terrrrrrible. Some parts are viewable and you may laugh a few times. But what bothered me is that this movie could’ve been great. It could’ve been special. I wanted 21 to take me back eight years when I read the book cover to cover. I wanted 21 to make me want to gamble; to make me want to go to Vegas. But instead, 21 made me feel like going home and watching Rounders.

Good Headlines I played with:

“Blackjack!”
“21 is 3 times as good as Seven.”
“The legal age to drink, gamble, and enjoy a good movie.”

Bad Headlines I played with:

“21 is a bust!”
“21—not a good movie”
“Don’t double down on 21.”

Best Line from a Review:

I probably should have given it a lower grade, but I really, really like watching Laurence Fishburne hurt people.
Rob Vaux
Flipside Movie Emporium

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