The bright lights, casino tables and brash lifestyle of Las Vegas provides the backdrop for the real-life story presented in '21', where pushing your luck becomes an art form.
Ben Campbell (Sturgess) has brains to burn. He's a mathematical genius who wants to go to medical school but his background won't afford him that chance, as tuition fees are beyond his reach. He's honest as the day is long, works in a menswear shop to support himself and loves his mammy - he's basically your squeaky clean boy-next-door... ripe for corruption.
MIT professor Micky Rosa (Spacey) spots a certain vulnerability in him that could be exploited. Although Ben is a good guy, he wants to fulfil his dream of going to medical school and a get-rich-quick scheme might just be the answer. Micky has pulled together the brainiest students from his classes for his extra-curricular project – card counting in Vegas in order to 'beat the system' and cash-in at the Blackjack tables. Ben decides he has too many morals for a con like that but when Jill Taylor (Bosworth) asks him very nicely it's much harder to say no.
He agrees to the project short-term, joining Choi (Yoo), Kianna (Lapira) and Jimmy (Pitts) on Professor Micky's dream-team. Their trips to Vegas are action-packed as they each get a taste for the high-life, the money and the disguises that they employ in their second life. But nothing ever runs that smoothly and casino heavy Cole Williams (Fishburne), is hoping that their luck is going to run out soon, before he has to take drastic action.
Spacey does what he does best here - simmering nasty throughout, the dark threat always present without the need for explosions and violent theatrics. Sturgess holds his own in the lead role, as the guy who should be cool but doesn't really care for it, while Bosworth, despite her young years, feels like a bit of stretch in the college kid role.
While the real-life story behind '21', as told in Ben Mezrich's book 'Bringing Down the House', seems to have plenty of dramatic elements in place, this doesn't really translate to the screen. The film is never quite pacey enough to make you care about the goings-on in the casinos, with a soundtrack and scenery shots that veer towards arty and glamorous rather than urgent or dramatic.
You get the feeling throughout that '21' is a little bit too polished for its own good, opting for gloss when grit would have been a better choice. It's not the worst movie in the world, it's just disappointing considering what the starting point was.
Watch an exclusive clip of '21' here.