21

Movie review by
S. Jhoanna Robledo, Common Sense Media
21 Movie Poster Image
Parents recommendPopular with kids
Breezy Vegas con film fun, with some iffy stuff.
  • PG-13
  • 2008
  • 123 minutes

Parents say

age 14+
Based on 8 reviews

Kids say

age 12+
Based on 23 reviews

A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

The students involved in the scheme are aware that what they're doing isn't necessarily playing by the rules, and they seem quite attracted to the rush. They also happily indulge in the spoils, drinking to excess, hooking up with strangers, and throwing money around (one seems to have a shoplifting habit, and fake IDs are used to subvert the authorities and protect the students' true identities). Still, it's clear that, for them, it's not necessarily about total greed (except perhaps for their mentor, Professor Rosa). Also, for Ben, this enterprise is a means to a seemingly noble end: paying for medical school without having to rely on anyone for help. Plus, he comes to an understanding that his game isn't without its cost.

Violence

A security officer takes delight in beating up anyone caught counting cards; he even wears special rings on his fingers to make the experience more painful (the bloody aftermath is shown on camera). He also flashes a gun, and another gun is fired in a casino. Some loud arguments between friends.

Sex

Strippers do their thing at a club (lots of cleavage shots); Jill propositions Ben, and they make love in front of a window (they're shown from the top half, kissing passionately, naked); mild jokes about masturbation.

Language

Some salty language, including "goddamn," "bulls--t," and the like.

Consumerism

Practically feels like a commercial for Las Vegas, with scene upon scene of casinos, gamblers, and the strip. Signage is everywhere, from the Hard Rock Cafe to Planet Hollywood to The Mirage. A book that teaches the students how to count cards is clearly shown. Shopping sprees take place in stores that are clearly marked out front or by shopping bags, including Louis Vuitton and Gucci. Also many mentions of Google, Sizzler, MIT, Harvard Medical School, etc.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Lots of drinking in Boston pubs and at the Vegas casinos and strip bars. Tons of smoking in those locales as well.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that 21 is a breezy, fact-based drama about college students who use their math skills to count cards in Las Vegas; it may appeal to teens thanks to stars like Jim Sturgess (of Across the Universe) and Kate Bosworth. That said, the subject matter is pretty serious, and there are some fairly violent scenes -- a security officer punches counters with a closed, ring-bedecked fist -- as well as lots of smoking, drinking, swearing, and, of course, gambling. The students also meet up post-gambling at a strip club, and there are plenty of cleavage shots and some passionate clinches.

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User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Adult Written byC4M March 20, 2020

Very good

This was a nice movie to watch. It was very inspiring and emotional. This can and should be used as a tool to inspire kids.
Adult Written byKareenacervetto702 April 29, 2019

17+

When the movie has strippers, a half naked sex scene in front of a window, and talks about masturbation, then it is a more adult movie.
Teen, 15 years old Written bybananalover March 18, 2011
i love this movie
Teen, 16 years old Written byfaithblade March 17, 2011
my only

What's the story?

MIT senior Ben Campbell (Jim Sturgess) has worked hard all his life to achieve one goal: attend Harvard Medical School. Getting in isn't the problem -- he's already been accepted -- but paying for it is. His only chance is a full-ride scholarship, but nothing distinguishes him from most of the applicants. He's smart and hardworking, but he has no life experience, having sacrificed his social life for school. No wonder the lure of Vegas becomes too much for him to resist -- what's not to like about the chance to make tons of money, live a different life, and land a pretty classmate, Jill (Kate Bosworth)? Jill is part of a blackjack "team" led by professor Micky Rosa (Kevin Spacey), a math whiz who trains his students in the fine art of card-counting and flies them to Sin City for money-making weekends. Technically, it's not a crime -- but Vegas doesn't celebrate winners, particularly if they're geniuses who find a way to take the house for all it's worth. Soon Ben discovers he's involved in a dizzying game where the stakes -- Harvard, graduation, his future -- are much too high.

Is it any good?

Slick, stylish, and mostly seductive, 21 -- based on Ben Mezrich's nonfiction book Bringing Down the House about MIT student Jeff Ma -- is a treat despite some clunky dialogue and clichéd setups. Just one example: On his 21st birthday, Ben's mother beseeches him to have fun; "You only turn 21 once," she says. Cut to the fork in the road that promises excitement. Later, Jill, in an effort to persuade Ben to join the team, tells him, "You were born for this." And so on.

But true talent masks many ills -- and Sturgess has plenty. Cool and vulnerable in Across the Universe and aptly English in The Other Boleyn Girl, he's credibly earnest and awkward here, but not so much that his Vegas transformations are unbelievable. Spacey, who co-produced the film, gives viewers more of his sneering, snide shtick, but it's effective here. His mentees are a likable bunch -- young, too-clever, and eager to please. And Vegas? The cheese is (mostly gone). Rarely has it looked this fun.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about Ben's decision to gamble as a means to an end. Was he right? Is it ever OK to bend the rules to accomplish something?

  • Since it's not technically illegal to count cards, why is it so frowned upon? Do you think it's cheating or just a clever use of math skills? Is it easier to justify something like card counting if you're taking money away from a casino instead of a person?

  • Does the movie glamorize Las Vegas and gambling? What do you think casinos are like in real life?

Movie details

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