BOOKS AND ARTS MARCH 28, 2008
Like many people, I've grown increasingly annoyed with movie
trailers that give away too much. So yesterday, as a thought experiment, I
wrote a review
of the blackjack flick 21 based solely on its overstuffed trailer.
Having now seen 21 (the movie) and
not just 21 (the trailer), I’d say my
pre-assessment was pretty close. The film is dull, overlong, morally confused,
and just not very much fun. There are a few small details I got wrong: The main
character, Ben, only wears sunglasses in a couple of scenes, and the shot of a bag
being thrown over his head, though spliced into the trailer in a way that suggested
it was done by casino security, is actually borrowed from another scene.
But my main miscalculation was that 21 is much, much worse than I anticipated. From the trailer, it
looked as though the film would have a little zip before it entered its
melodramatic doldrums. In reality, it’s slack and maudlin from the get-go. Ben
is saddled with a pitiable backstory (father dead, mother works in a bar) and a
pair of dorky, girl-phobic, robot-inventing friends--caricatures so lame that
the nation’s geeks should contemplate a class-action suit. I’d wondered what exactly
he needed the $300,000 for, given that he’s clearly already enrolled at MIT.
The answer is that he’s been accepted (early admission, no less) by Harvard Medical School,
but won’t be able to attend unless he can raise the cash. Tragically for him, 21 takes place in a universe where there
is no such thing as financial aid or moneylending of any kind (seriously: the
word “loan” is never uttered).
The mechanics of the card-counting scam are not “intricate,”
as I predicted, but rather numbingly simple. Unfortunately, the film seems
unaware of this, offering tedious, repetitive lessons in the mundane details. I
eventually lost count of how many times we were instructed that the word
“sweet” was code for “16,” but it must have been upwards of half-a-dozen. Also,
someone might have suggested to director Robert Luketic that not every blackjack scene needed to be dramatized with a montage of
flipping cards and accumulating chips set to loud, unimaginative techno pop.
I could easily go on--about the disappointing
Kate Bosworth, the I-have-no-idea-who-my-character-is-supposed-to-be Laurence
Fishburne, the fourth-rate dialogue, the comically inert romantic subplot--but
there hardly seems any point. Suffice it to say that when, at the end, the film
offers up an annoying remix of “You Can’t Always Get What You Want,” it
comes across less as accompaniment than as self-critique. If my experiment
demonstrated anything it’s that, by making the movie it advertises redundant,
sometimes the trailer-as-summary is a blessing in disguise.
Christopher Orr is a senior editor at The New Republic.