A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this movie.
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 & Scariness
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.
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Sex, Romance & Nudity
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.
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Some salty language, including "goddamn," "bulls--t," and the like.
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Products & Purchases
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.
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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. To stay in the loop on more movies like this, you can sign up for weekly Family Movie Night emails.
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.
Did we miss something on diversity?
Research shows a connection between kids' healthy self-esteem and positive portrayals in media. That's why we've added a new "Diverse Representations" section to our reviews that will be rolling out on an ongoing basis. You can help us help kids by suggesting a diversity update.