Last night my wife and I went to the opening of 21, the movie based on Ben Mezrich’s book “Bringing Down the House”. We were looking forward to the movie. My wife had written a very positive review of “Bringing Down the House”, a book that she and I both enjoyed a lot. She had done a great interview of Ben Mezrich, which showed how funny a guy he is. And the trailer of 21 made it look like it would be a fun movie.
We were disappointed! 21 isn’t terrible. It’s definitely watchable. But it is nowhere near as good as the book, and in important ways it strays from the book. Below are five reasons why I didn’t like the movie.
1. The main character, Ben Campbell, who is played well by Jim Sturgess, does something to the leader of the team, Micky Rosa, played by Kevin Spacy, which makes Ben Campbell look like a real jerk. I think that the screenwriters thought that what Campbell did was both clever and justified. It was neither. It wasn’t clever because if Mickey Rosa was as intelligent as he was portrayed, he would have never fallen for it. It wasn’t justified, because he wasn’t compelled to do it, which the movie seems to suggest. And, as they teach you in elementary school, two wrongs don’t make a right. Moreover, what Ben did to Mickey was something that didn’t occur in the book, which was supposed to represent what really happened.
2. In the beginning of the movie, Micky Rosa is teaching a class in mathematics and he presents what is sometimes called the ‘Let’s Make a Deal’ logic puzzle. Of course, Campbell gives the correct answer to the problem in no time at all. But his explanation for his answer is pretty lame. This isn’t a reason why the movie is not good; rather, it’s a reason why I didn’t like it. I use the ‘Let’s Make a Deal’ puzzle as fun way to break the ice when I teach, but now that the answer is part of popular culture, some of my students will know it, without understanding the explanation for it. As you can probably see, this will make it more difficult for me to use the puzzle in class.
3. The cinemotography is kind of drab, like MIT, the school that Ben Campbell attends. From the trailer I thought it was going to be a slick, stylistic, fast-paced movie, something like Scorcese’s ‘The Color of Money’. But it had more of a feel of a made-for-TV movie.
4. The movie uses a a certain cliched plot device which involves Ben having trouble paying for medical school. It’s unrealistic. Most mds take out loans and pay them back with their salaries. It is not part of the book. It takes too long to develop. It isn’t necessary to tell the real story, which is more interesting. If you’re as smart as Ben Campbell, you probably wouldn’t go to medical school. I believe that Hollywood incorrectly thinks that if you don’t give people what they’re used to in terms of plot devices then they won’t like it. Grow up.
5. Ben Campbell’s friends in the movie, a couple of well-acted MIT geeks, are thrown in for humor. And there is a moment where they did make me laugh. But again it was so formulaic and kind of sentimental. Campbell’s friends are real nerds. But Campbell is good looking and a little awkward. A bit unrealistic. Instead of wasting their time developing these characters, the screenwriters should have worked on developing Ben Campbell’s character as he changes from a moral upstanding brilliant mind to a person who is corrupted by the temptations of Vegas. This would have made for a much more interesting movie.
I give the move 2 stars out of 5.