A trip to Las Vegas with its lights and glamour would excite almost anyone, never mind a 21 year-old shy student from MIT. Based on a true story told in Ben Mezrich's book, "Bringing Down The House," it's about Ben Campbell (Jim Sturgess), a math genius who plans on going to Harvard Medical after graduation. But he needs about $300,000 to cover his tuition, and the possibility of a scholarship is pretty unlikely.
He has two friends and beside time in class, they spend most days working on a robot for an upcoming contest. That is, until Ben gets an offer to join a secret club from charismatic professor Micky Rosa, played by the always energetic Kevin Spacey.
Rosa mentors a small group of very bright students in the art of card counting. They take weekend trips to Las Vegas where they play cards all night, some acting as shills and the others counters who play for big money. After playing hard and partying hard, they return to Monday morning classes as if nothing unusual has happen.
Ben learns the game quickly and is very capable at counting. His goal is to earn enough for tuition and then quit, but of course, he becomes caught up in the game, even when things go very badly.
Kate Bosworth plays a member of the blackjack group, and a big part of why Ben decides to join. Laurence Fishburne plays the casino's head of security, and although counting cards is legal, he makes sure no one wants to do it in his place.
21 is an entertaining film, but some of it just doesn't work well. The students are given disguises and fake I.D.'s and are told by Micky to act as if they don't know one another. However, they hang out together all over town and only use their disguises sporadically. Also, their "secret" cues to let each other know that the timing is right to sit at a certain hot blackjack table are so obvious, they're laughable.
Even so, Sturgess is very believable as the student who gets caught up in the action. Also, the premise of a group of kids using their smarts to outwit Las Vegas, make a lot of money, and have a secret life, is quite enticing!