“21” – Susan Granger reviews

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Here’s the deal: this is sheer escapist entertainment.

Ben Campbell (Jim Sturgess) is a brilliant MIT senior with his heart set on attending Harvard Medical School. While he dutifully sells men’s clothing at J. Press on weekends, his $8-an-hour salary just doesn’t meet the steep $300,000 tuition and his widowed mom (Helen Carey) can’t help out much. His future is totally dependent on winning a coveted scholarship, but other competitors are equally qualified.

So when a manipulative math professor, Mickey Rosa (Kevin Spacey) realizes Ben’s a brainiac, he convinces to join a top-secret, high-stakes gambling team (Kate Bosworth, Aaron Yoo, Liza Lapira, Jacob Pitts). Soon Ben begins to spend all his weekends in Las Vegas. Rosa has devised a near-foolproof scheme for ‘counting cards’ at blackjack tables and this lucrative, clandestine enterprise soon dominates Ben’s life, much to the chagrin of his geeky buddies (Josh Gad, Sam Golzari) – and Planet Hollywood’s beleaguered security consultant (Laurence Fishburne) who has a grudge against Rosa.

Based on “Bringing Down the House,” Ben Mezrich’s best-seller about six real-life MIT students who took Vegas for millions in the 1990s, director Robert Luketic (“Legally Blonde”) makes ‘counting cards’ absolutely fascinating, not to mention exciting, aided by Gray Marshall’s flashy visual effects. Writers Peter Steinfeld and Allan Loeb have a tougher time with characterizations, particularly since bland Kate Bosworth (“Superman Returns,” “Beyond the Sea”) seems incapable of more than a couple of facial expressions. As if to compensate, Spacey maniacally cavorts all over the screen, while Fishburne provides believable menace.

Despite some glaring plot loopholes that had me wondering why Ben didn’t rent a safety-deposit box at a Boston bank, on the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “21” is a slick, suspenseful 7. It’s a good gamble.

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Susan Granger

Susan Granger is a product of Hollywood. Her natural father, S. Sylvan Simon, was a director and producer at R.K.O., M.G.M. and Columbia Pictures; her adoptive father, Armand Deutsch, produced movies at M.G.M. As a child, Susan appeared in movies with Abbott & Costello, Red Skelton, Lucille Ball, Margaret O'Brien and Lassie. She attended Mills College in California, studying journalism with Pierre Salinger, and graduated from the University of Pennsylvania, Phi Beta Kappa, with highest honors in journalism. During her adult life, Susan has been on radio and television as an anchorwoman and movie/drama critic. Her newspaper reviews have been syndicated around the world, and she has appeared on American Movie Classics cable television. In addition, her celebrity interviews and articles have been published in REDBOOK, PLAYBOY, FAMILY CIRCLE, COSMOPOLITAN, WORKING WOMAN and THE NEW YORK TIMES, as well as in PARIS MATCH, ELLE, HELLO, CARIBBEAN WORLD, ISLAND LIFE, MACO DESTINATIONS, NEWS LIMITED NEWSPAPERS (Australia), UK DAILY MAIL, UK SUNDAY MIRROR, DS (France), LA REPUBBLICA (Italy), BUNTE (Germany), VIP TRAVELLER (Krisworld) and many other international publications through SSG Syndicate. Susan also lectures on the "Magic and Mythology of Hollywood" and "Don't Take It Personally: Conquering Criticism and other Survival Skills," originally published on tape by Dove Audio.