Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Movie Review: 21

My biggest problem with 21 may seem like a really trivial insignificant one but upon discovering it, it wouldn't get out of my head, nor could I find any explanation for it, hence it drove me nearly insane trying to figure it out which is why I'm just going to spill it out here because if I think about it one more goddamn run-on sentence longer, I'll "break my cheekbone with a hammer"* and here it is:

If Ben is supposed to be hard up for cash, why the hell is he carrying, of all messenger bags, a Freitag bag?

I'm a little ashamed to admit that one tiny oversight from the wardrobe department bothered me so much since it was nowhere near integral to the plot or direction of the film, but I suppose knowing how much one of those babies cost (Ben's bag in particular is going for about US$190 on the website), it was really distracting to see this 'poor', yes, I'm breaking out the quotation marks, dude struggle to earn cash.

I thought about it throughout the movie. Was it perhaps a gift? A shopping splurge? Did he get it off a second hand store? Discounted? By using a Freitag, are we supposed to glean off Ben's life philosophies? Did the wardrobe department not expect common movie goers to know about Freitag? Why Freitag and not a plain canvas bag? For a movie that only rolled out brand names after the Blackjack team started winning at Las Vegas, why was there mention of a brand now? Ben's entire wardrobe, short of the winning streak in Vegas, was completely nondescript and brand-less. He wasn't even wearing Chucks or some other easily identifiable footwear. So why a Freitag bag?

I couldn't understand why I was so fixated on this. Was I merely pulling off Lost fanboy tendencies and inflicting meaning into every single happening? Have I perhaps chanced upon some kind of anal-retentive brand association characteristic that was previously lying dormant? Why was this Freitag issue holding up so much of my attention?? And then it dawned on me.

The reason why I was wasting my efforts focusing on one minute detail that occurred four minutes into the film was because the other two hours of the movie as a whole was simply not riveting. At all. For a movie to be about cheating the institution at high stakes gambling, 21 was very dull and lacked any real suspense. Everything about the film was very by-the-numbers, observe:

Insert one bland but pretty main protagonist; Check.
Insert one love interest who will inexplicably end up falling for bland pretty main protagonist; Check.
Insert background team members with random quirky behaviour; one kleptomaniac, one 'other female' and jealous loser, all present.
Insert evil antagonist with mysterious past and dead eyes; Kevin Spacey, there you are!
Insert flashy scenes of Las Vegas montages, yay!-we're-rich-watch-us-now sequences, unimportant background actors, people from 'The Man'-type institutions; all here.
Final double cross action during the climax? Yawn.

It should have been gold. I remember watching the story of the MIT Blackjack Team way back when and being completely absorbed. What went wrong between transcribing the story from real life to celluloid, well, a weak script and an even weaker director would be my guess. And as much as I adore Jim Sturgess, casting him as a 21 year old works about as well as casting Jessica Simpson in any other role but the chesty dumb blonde. But not to worry. At the rate Hollywood is revisiting old material recently, there should be a new updated version of this story in, say about five years. Three, if they get really desperate, and they decide to stop making Adam Sandler-type movies featuring Adam Sandler. Let's hope that messenger bags aren't the sole attention grabber in the next hypothetical film.

* = The threat is a direct line used in the interrogation scene in the movie. I'm keeping it and using it for future references.

[edit]: Read this article by Wired Magazine instead. It's infinitely more interesting than the movie.


Ars said...

I just watched this film on an overseas flight and wondered the same thing! Pretty good score for a poor kid...

Ars said...

I just watched this film on an overseas flight and wondered the same thing! Pretty good score for a poor kid...