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Reviews: Card sharps are blunted; Review: 21.

UNLIKE the risk-taking protagonists in this high stakes drama adapted from Ben Mezrich's fascinating book, Robert Luketic's film plays safe at every turn.

He sticks with some twodimensional characters whose emotional journey is far too linear, then goes bust with an obvious double-bluff that we can see coming well before the hapless fall guy.

The hero is Ben Campbell (Sturgess, pictured right), one of the most gifted seniors at MIT Accepted into Harvard Medical School, he needs EUR300,000 for the tuition and sexy classmate Jill (Bosworth) recruits him to a hush-hush club run by maths professor Micky Rosa (Spacey).

The teacher hopes to teach Ben how to beat the odds at blackjack and outwit old school security chief Cole Williams (Fishburne).

Ben joins Jill, Choi (Yoo), Kianna (Lapira) and Fisher (Pitts) in the card counting ring, learning a system of subtle signals to ensure they never get caught by Cole or the CCTV cameras.

The youngsters head off determined to impress Micky but the adrenaline rush of winning big gradually corrupts their souls.

21 lays its cards on the table from the opening frame, and sluggish direction does little to alleviate the nagging feeling we know all of the aces up its sleeve well before screenwriters Peter Steinfeld and Allan Loeb deal them.

Sturgess is a likeable leading man and there is semblance of an emotional arc as his hero metamorphoses from shy, demure mummy's boy into designer-label poseur.

However, the other students remain enigmas - they have no back story and there is never any explanation of their motives for joining Micky's club - and the romance between Ben and Jill is tepid and crudely engineered.

STARRING: Jim Sturgess, Kevin Spacey, Kate Bosworth, Laurence Fishburne, Aaron Yoo, Liza Lapira, Jacob Pitts DIRECTOR: Robert Luketic CERTIFICATE: 12A RUNNING TIME: 122mins

REVIEWER'S RATING: ** 1/2

SHOWING: Cineworld, Showcase, VUE VERDICT: Bosworth and her young co-stars are wasted in two-dimensional roles, Fishburne glowers in his few scenes, and Spacey dusts off another backstabber from the repertoire
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Evening Gazette (Middlesbrough, England)
Date:Apr 11, 2008
Words:333
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