You Can’t Beat The House
Release Date: March 28, 2008
Audience: Older teens and adults
Runtime: 118 minutes
Distributor: Columbia Pictures/Sony Pictures Entertainment
Director: Robert Luketic
Writer: Peter Steinfeld and Allan Boek
Address Comments To:Michael Lynton, Chairman/CEO
Amy Pascal, Chairman - Motion Picture Group
Sony Pictures Entertainment
(Columbia Pictures/TriStar/Screen Gems/Provident)
10202 West Washington Blvd.
Culver City, CA 90232-3195
Phone: (310) 244-4000
Fax: (310) 244-2626
Web Page: www.spe.sony.com/
Ben Campbell (Jim Sturgess) is a top MIT student headed for Harvard Medical School, but finds that his chance of getting the needed scholarship is very slim. Enter math professor Mickey Rosa (Kevin Spacey), who trains Ben and a group of students to “count cards” in Las Vegas, earning all of them hundreds of thousands of dollars. “Counting cards” is the process where one adds all the cards that are dealt to know the probability of what’s going to come next from the deck.
Though counting cards is not illegal, the casinos do not approve of the strategy. Eventually, security consultant Cole Williams (Laurence Fishburne) begins to catch on to the students’ wiles. If caught, the consequence is a brutal beating in the casino basement.
21 has a mixed moral message. Ben ultimately doesn’t reach his goal of riches from Las Vegas, and there are clear negative consequences to his deceptions, but through a twist of plot, his actions turn out to help him. Further, Ben’s obsession with Vegas, along with all the trappings that sudden wealth can bring, leads him to lie to his mother and abandon his best friend and the student science competition they are doing together. Ben comes to regret his actions, and he does make those things right in the end. These actions are positive and commendable, but the movie is set against the backdrop of Vegas and the desire for wealth, sex and a “party” lifestyle. One scene in fact takes place in a strip club with dozens of shots of string bikini clad women. Also, Ben falls in love with one of his cohorts and, at the height of his seduction into the Vegas lifestyle, there is a sex scene with partial nudity between them. While Ben technically isn’t cheating by counting cards, there is much deception involved, such as false identities, smuggling cash through airport security, and disguises.
Regrettably, the characters exhibit essentially a pagan worldview. God is not mentioned except in reference to one joke. This secular worldview and the negative elements of foul language and deception keeps this movie from being a strong and effective morality tale of negative consequences following negative actions. As the apostle Paul wrote in Galatians 6:7, “A man reaps what he sows.”
The movie itself is well made. The story is paced nicely, and the script creates very strong characters. The plot itself has a number of twists and turns, along with a surprise ending. The acting is the strongest element of the movie, with exceptional performances from Jim Sturgess as Ben Campbell and Kevin Spacey as the morally bankrupt professor. Josh Gad as the genius best friend is terrific and has the movie’s funniest lines. 21 is a tale told well that comes close to delivering a strong moral message marred by negative elements.
Though well made, 21 has a mixed moral message. Ben ultimately doesn’t reach his goal of riches from Las Vegas, and there are clear negative consequences to his deceptions. Even so, through a plot twist, his actions turn out to help him. Also, Ben’s obsession with Vegas, including the trappings of sudden wealth, leads him to lie to his mother and abandon his best friend and their science competition. Ben comes to regret his actions and makes those things right in the end. This is positive and commendable, but the movie is set against the backdrop of Vegas and the desire for wealth, sex and a “party” lifestyle. While Ben technically isn’t cheating by counting cards, there is much deception involved, such as false identities, smuggling cash through airport security, and disguises.