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Film Studies 101
Unmissable 5 Stars
Excellent 4 Stars
Good 3 Stars
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Tragic 1 Star

Jim Sturgess
Kate Bosworth
Kevin Spacey
Laurence Fishburne.
Robert Luketic.
Peter Steinfeld
Allan Loeb.
Running Time
123 minutes

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Ocean's Eleven: The College Years

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Ben (Sturgess) is liberated from his geeky life when his college professor (Spacey) spots his genius for maths. Teach’ draws him into a card-counting scheme on the tables in Vegas, winning money to pay his college fees. Until things go wrong…


Robert Luketic is so over pink. After establishing himself as Hollywood’s go-to guy for any script that dotted its ‘i’s with hearts, the Legally Blonde director has ditched pastels for something more boysy - and he proves himself capable of frothy amusement for either gender.

Based on a true story, 21 follows Ben Campbell (Jim Sturgess), a handsome college nerd, who is inveigled into a group of teenage card-counting blackjack players led by his maths lecturer (Kevin Spacey). So follows a journey of riches won and lost, sexual awakening and really good suits.

This is as much a piece of enjoyable fluff as anything else Luketic has made; it’s just got moodier lighting. The nerd who gets a taste of the cool life is a cinematic stalwart, so it stands to reason that Ben’s first few outings in Vegas provide the film’s zippiest scenes. His fellow scammers are a job lot of characters, allowed only two facial expressions each, but their propensity for taking on new identities every time they hit the tables makes them fun to be around. That people wishing to pass unnoticed would probably not don big hats, goofy glasses and wigs from Madame Skanky’s House of Hookers is rather beside the point. Realism is unwelcome in this realm of wish fulfilment, and that’s just fine.

Luketic places the film in capable hands with his two leads. Bosworth is sweetly determined as love interest Jill, a combination of mutual exclusives: maths genius and prettiest girl in school; a career gambler father, and happy childhood. But it’s Sturgess who makes the movie. The young Brit, who threw heart and lungs into Across The Universe, has an everyman appeal that gives the movie a sturdy centre. Spacey is clearly enjoying himself immensely as the preening Svengali, but his once-subtle charisma has given way to a smirking need to hog the lens, while Laurence Fishburne makes an insufficiently threatening villain, as a security guard outdated by technology.

Being a film about dodgy gambling, 21 can’t resist some sleight of hand in the final act, but it’s an obvious con that won’t draw any gasps from its big reveal. This is a film that's at its most enjoyable when it knows not to play beyond its means.

The Ocean’s Eleven: The College Years mood makes for a breezy good time, even if there is, like Vegas, precious little substance beneath the glitz.

Reviewed by Olly Richards

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Your Reviews

Average user rating for 21
Empire Star Rating

Good story, decent actors, well shot and enjoyable. What more do you want or need in a movie!!?? The guy who plays the lead is good and extremely likeable. Kevin Spacey is goof but slightly underused. Not sure if I'd watch it again, maybe if it was on TV and nothing else on. ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by lukejt02 at 13:46, 06 March 2011 | Report This Post

Just gets the job done

While not at all artistically significant, 21 does deliver in the entertainment department. Casual movie-goers will have great fun with the plot, while the inevitable romanve doesn't feel too forced.Those looking for a good night in will be satisfied, but definitely nothing to write home about. ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by djphilips at 12:27, 07 April 2010 | Report This Post

Entertaining But Overlong.

I wanted to see this when it came out so I rented it out and watched it last night. The story is about a young collage man joins a group of others to become good blackjack players in Vegas, he enjoys the highs but feels the lows. Vegas has never looked so beautiful to go to, bright neon lights and the temptation is everywhere the camera goes. The cast are intresting, Kate Bosworth was okay as the love intrest, Laurance Fishburne was also good as the bad guy while I thought Jim Sturgess was the w... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by joanna likes films at 14:11, 30 June 2009 | Report This Post

Wasn't too bad a film but it felt too dragged out in places. There was no need for the long and boring scenes in which the camera dwells too long on Sturgess and Co playing Blackjack. Decent enough kind of twist in the end. Decent in parts but painfully long at times. Think Ocean's Eleven meets Rain Man..... except that both of those films are a lot better than this. ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by PureAinmhi at 02:45, 10 April 2009 | Report This Post


okay but not great. Spacey makes a great villian and it's nice to see him paired with Fishburne. Too long and with too many twists. ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by lynnshep at 15:39, 29 November 2008 | Report This Post


okay but not great. Spacey makes a great villian and it's nice to see him paired with Fishburne. Too long and with too many twists. ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by lynnshep at 15:39, 29 November 2008 | Report This Post


Possibly the slowest, dullest film I have managed to sit through. ... More

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Posted by timbailey60 at 09:54, 30 October 2008 | Report This Post

Blackjack: It just isn't sexy.

Acting was average, Spacey was good. Plot was predicdable and boring. ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by ???? at 13:05, 28 August 2008 | Report This Post

Saw it in the sneak preview last night. My mini-review: A student (Jim Sturgess), a maths genius, can`t start the study of his dreams at Harvard Med. because it`s too expensive. The invitation from his professor to join a club with his colleague students is very welcome. The club is specialised in counting cards during Blackjack games in Las Vegas. The best way to earn a lot of cast real fast so he can start his medical study... Even though that the story is pretty predictable, the film ... More

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Posted by TheGodfather at 19:53, 06 June 2008 | Report This Post


it was alright but not fantastic. ... More

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Posted by IRON MAN at 19:29, 10 May 2008 | Report This Post


Empire User Rating

Posted by soulfood at 12:27, 27 April 2008 | Report This Post

not awful, not great

To be honest, i didnt like much about this at all. overly cliched, poorly acted (by everyone) but it passed an evening. I will probably never remember this movie again. ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by Stewie at 03:01, 20 April 2008 | Report This Post

RE: What a Bore

Really surprised at how much I enjoyed this, really good film as far as I'm concerned.  Good story arc, good twists, and I thought Spacey was brilliant. The journey of the main character (Ben) throughout the film is logical, makes sense and does have you thinking about what you want to happen to him.  Great stuff.   8/10 ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by Paul2j at 12:58, 19 April 2008 | Report This Post

RE: What a Bore

I enjoyed it.. its good solid entertaiment. and visualy pleasing to the eye. It'sa movie which shows everything it is staight away, and dos'nt try to be anything differnt to what it is, the movie looks great and is fasted paced however the plot was a little thin  if its a lacking in deth, and plot lacking, I give it a good 3 1/2 stars. The musical score if worth a star on it own, go a see it, it wont win any awards, but its good viewing. ... More

Posted by ukacidman at 00:02, 18 April 2008 | Report This Post

21 - Good Will Counting

When the movie opens, Ben is the perfect student. He might be a bit wet, naive and needs to grow up, but that's okay - this is a movie and we know that he will turn into something else entirely over the next two hours. He will reach heady heights , then hit the lowly-lows before coming good in the end. That's all fine and well because this is a Hollywood movie; but it's the obvious way that 21 hits all those notes that's the most frustrating aspect of a film that could have been decent enough. ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by moviemaniac2 at 09:59, 14 April 2008 | Report This Post

RE: Lazy

Wasn't expecting a lot but ended up really enjoying this film, it was a bit of fun and at no point did it drag.  At no point did I think that the lead wouldn't get into harvard med - it was obvious from the start that he'd use Vegas as his dazzling life experience.  I really didn't see the twist at the end coming though  - overall a good, enjoyable film. ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by captain jack harknes at 09:08, 14 April 2008 | Report This Post


This movie is dull lazy film-making at it's worst. Cheesy story, wooden acting, blatantly obvious "twist" (used lightly). . . only good thing was the shots of Vegas. Don't bother! ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by nathanhodge at 19:53, 13 April 2008 | Report This Post

RE: What a Bore

It was ok but that had to be expected from a film about card counting. The cast does a good job including the apparently "wooden" Bosworth (she wasn't). The main thing that didnt sit right with the movie was Jim Strugess who while a good actor is not convincing as a MIT nerd or a card player. ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by Starscream at 19:28, 13 April 2008 | Report This Post

RE: What a Bore

Nothing too amazing, but good 'Oceans 11-lite' fun... Sturgess is a superb leading man and Spacey and Fishburne steal the scenes they have.... good fun if nothing special   3/5 ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by DJ Rob C: Mark II! at 15:07, 13 April 2008 | Report This Post

What a Bore

This is something that I would expect to see on TV. But at a theater?!! Outside of the lead actor, the acting was poor. Everyone told me this movie was good, now I'm concerned about them. I did like some of the shots though. But will not recommend this to anyone. ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by Silly Lilly at 18:25, 12 April 2008 | Report This Post

RE: 21

Minor Spoilers follow:   Having read the book 'Bringing Down the House' I was looking forward to seeing this film.   The story follows Ben an MIT genius who has been accepted to Harvard Medical School. The only problem he requires $300,000 in order to fund his tuition. After speaking up in one of his classes he brings himself to the attention of his tutor, Micky Rosa, who also happens to run an after hours card counting class. When Ben is offered the ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by Diggler at 10:46, 12 April 2008 | Report This Post


A good film nothing great, nothing new but it does have some good performances. Not really sure how Kate Bosworth got the gig as I feel not only could they have got a better actress but even someone who the audience member (or at least the males ones) fall for as she is rather wooden IMO. If it weren't for the Glasgow schools being off again I'd probably would have enjoyed my experience more. (no wonder Glasgow's full of NEDs as they're always on breaks from school) nothing to do wit... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by matthewforan at 00:18, 12 April 2008 | Report This Post

RE: .

Solid if unspectacular stuff. Not an original bone in it's body obviously, but it's well performed, decently paced and directed well enough. Thoroughly enjoyable entertainment.   3.5/5 ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by paulyboy at 23:46, 11 April 2008 | Report This Post

RE: .

I enjoyed this film, it wasn’t particularly clever, it didn’t really have any twists and was fairly straightforward. Jim Sturgess puts in a solid turn. It just so happens that using maths to fix gambling is something that interests me (it has maths in it, I’m there!), and this film gets it right. It’s got tension, inevitable romance, and a (slightly poor) chase scene. Gold. Would’ve been 3/5, but it’s got maths in, and Laurence Fishburne kicks ass, so scrapes a 4. ... More

Posted by duncanbell at 13:35, 07 April 2008 | Report This Post


.. ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by jpdisco at 19:11, 06 April 2008 | Report This Post

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