Movie Mom

Movie Mom


21

posted by Nell Minow
B
Lowest Recommended Age:High School
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for some violence, and sexual content including partial nudity.
Profanity:Some strong language.
Nudity/Sex:Sexual references and situations, partial female nudity and skimpy costumes
Alcohol/Drugs:Drinking, smoking
Violence/Scariness:Characters in peril, some violence
Diversity Issues:Diverse characters, some stereotyping
Movie Release Date:March 28, 2008
DVD Release Date:July 22, 2008

The real-life story of a group of MIT math whiz kids who won millions playing blackjack gets the glossy Hollywood treatment here — a poor but worthy son of a single mother who needs money for med school tuition makes a better movie than a bunch of smart alecks who just want to make some big money. 21%20sturgess.jpg
The result may not be real, but it is solidly entertaining. If it were a hand at blackjack, call it an 18. Jim Sturgess (“The Other Boleyn Girl,” “Across the Universe”) is enormously appealing as Ben, the honest, shy, hard-working kid with the brain of a supercomputer who finds himself a high roller in one of the world’s most glamorous settings. Kevin Spacey, who also produced the film, is the charismatic but enigmatic professor with the system. Blackjack is the only game in Las Vegas that can be reliably beaten. The trick is card-counting, which requires memorizing both every single card that is played by any player and doing constant calculations according to a meticulous formula. The group improved their chances by working together, which required the use of various signals and disguises. But casino owners do not like card counters, and since they have the authority to ban any individual from playing, the real gamble for the MIT hotshots was winning enough to make it worthwhile but keeping a low enough profile to be able to come back.


The movie plays into the same fantasy that underlies hidden identity superhero sagas and transformed 98-pound weakling ads — the dream of easy money, power, and glamor, of having our inner worth recognized. And then there’s the fun of sticking it to the man, the man in this case being the guys on the other side of the gambling table. The framing story may be overly formulaic, but for the most part it keeps out of the way of the fun stuff — watching a shy kid get a great big kick out of, in the original title of the book that inspired this movie, “bringing down the house.”
Parents should know that this movie includes some violence. Characters get beaten up, and there is some scuffling and fighting. Characters smoke and drink. The film includes skimpy Las Vegas attire and partial female nudity, stealing, some strong language, sexual references and a non-explicit sexual situation.
Families who see this movie should talk about what meant when he said that “the world made itself easy for me?” Why did card counting give him more confidence than his other achievements? What did the characters mean by “real world” and what made it “real?” The real-life person who inspired the film is Chinese-American. Why did the book and the movie make him Caucasian?
Families who enjoy this film will also enjoy Ocean’s Eleven and the book about the real-life story behind this film.



  • Darrell

    Please be more specific regarding your warnings about nudity. I will not allow my 14 year old son to view films with female nudity. Your review of ’21′ does not specify if you are talking about male or female.

  • Lisa Kelly

    Hi, Movie Mom, I thank you for your reviews and that you are out there for resource for concerned parents. I always check for one of your reviews when I have some doubt about bringing my family to see a movie.
    That said, I must also agree with the comment by Darrell that I would request you to be more specific in your descriptions of nudity. I am a little surprised as I don’t recall you being so vague in the past. I really rely on you being specific in your descriptions of the nudity, violence, sexual situations so I can make up my mind. My children range in age from 10 – 17, so I need some pretty specific info to make a good judgement call.
    So, what is the nudity in “21″? Male, female, front, back? Buttocks, breasts? In what context does it occur? This is the kind of information I am looking for in your reviews, as well aa all of your insightful comments and recommendations. Thank you.
    Lisa K. at the Jersey Shore

  • Nell Minow

    Thanks very much Darrell and Lisa — I have amended the review to be more specific. The partial female nudity occurs in the context of Las Vegas entertainment. As I said in the review, the sexual situation is non-explicit, which means no nudity. While the MPAA ratings are unreliable, generally a PG-13 rating means no naked breasts. As you will see in a review later this month, male nudity is becoming more prevalent in films, though still only in R-rated movies.

  • Anonymous

    Thanks for getting back to me, Movie Mom, and for clarifying your review. It really is very much appreciated.
    Lisa K.

  • Anne from Corona, Ca

    Hi,
    I’ve emailed to you before that I have, too, relied on your reviews in deciding what is appropriate for my kids to be exposed to. Something I’m hoping you could work into your reviews are the context of the “non-explicit nudity”. Sometimes it’s a person going into a bathroom to take a shower or in a room changing their clothing and other times it’s a guy and girl (who are not married) taking eachothers clothes off and proceeding to have sex, then the movie suddenly cuts away. For those of us parents who can explain away the first kind of nudity, the second scenario that goes against what we teach our children, (only for these same people to end up to be the heroes in the movie), is a true disappointment. Not to mention that this kind of scene could easily be left out of the movie and 99% of the time has absolutely no relevence to the plot, climax, or resolution of the movies outcome.
    This would alleviate the rush to put a hand over the kids eyes and awkward explanations of why people are doing these things and it seems to be ok because it’s on a big movie screen that the whole world can watch. It is especially important because ANYONE, no matter how old, bonds with these characters and finds a sense of familiarity with them especially if it is the “good guy/girl” of the film that we are rooting for. If filmmakers are going to continue to include non-explicit nudity…it needs to have a better description of its context so, we who spend the $$ that decides if this film is a financial success, can do so in all fairness to our own judgment.
    Thanks, again, for what you do. There are many like me who count on you.
    Anne from Corona, Ca.

  • Nell Minow

    Thanks so much for your thoughtful comments, Anne. I do try to point out always when there is non-sexual nudity. I think that one of the most important aspects of what I do is providing context for the portrayals of sex, violence, alcohol, etc., so that parents can make exactly the distinctions you address. I appreciate the reminder and will do my best to be as clear as possible.

  • Dave

    This movie would have been better had they followed the book. The book was a much more compelling story and was more believeable.

  • Nell Minow

    I agree! But as you can see from my interview with Jeff Ma, who inspired the book and movie, they did not feel it was “Hollywood” enough. There’s a TV documentary that is much closer to the book.

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