Of course 21 isn’t just about blackjack. It’s more about Ben Campbell (Jim Sturgess) a shy but brilliant M.I.T. student who--needing to pay Harvard medical school tuition--finds the answers in the cards so to speak. After dazzling his unorthodox math professor and stats genius Micky Rosa (Kevin Spacey) with some mathematical prowess Ben is quickly indoctrinated into Rosa’s group of “gifted” students who head to Las Vegas every weekend with the know-how to count cards and beat the casino at the blackjack tables. And win big they do. Ben is soon seduced by the allure of this luxurious lifestyle including his sexy teammate Jill (Kate Bosworth) but begins rebelling against the well-oiled machine Rosa has built. Apparently you don’t want to cross this particular math professor--nor the old-school casino security consultant (Laurence Fishburne) who has set his sights on Ben as a master card counter. It’s not illegal to do that but the casinos don’t much like it when they catch you doing it. Hey what happens in Vegas…oh you know the rest. The most well-rounded performance comes from the British Sturgess best known for singing Beatles’ songs in Across the Universe. His Ben starts out as a naive math whiz/nerd whose biggest thrill is designing the perfect science project for an M.I.T. contest but then becomes the smooth Vegas dude with the nice clothes and hot girlfriend and finally turns into the guy who eventually loses it all. It’s not hard to see just how much Ben is going to change once he gets involved in the moneymaking scheme but Sturgess handles the transition with aplomb. The stiff Bosworth isn’t nearly as effective as his love interest but she has her moments. Also good for comic relief is Aaron Yoo (Disturbia) as one of the blackjack players who oddly enough is also a kleptomaniac. The performance drawbacks in 21 come from the more veteran players. Spacey and Fishburne seem to be going through the motions utilizing techniques they’ve used many times before. Spacey can whither whoever it is with that look of his while Fishburne postures as he always does. It’s too bad they couldn’t have put in more effort. As with any movie in which the action is inherently stagnant (i.e. sitting at a blackjack table) the question is how to keep things visually stimulating. That’s where director Robert Luketic--who up to this point has only done broad comedies such as Legally Blonde and Win a Date with Tad Hamilton--comes in. Luketic does a fine job maneuvering the camera around the tables creating slo-mo close-ups of the cards and incorporating a cool soundtrack. A good montage or four usually can also work well in a situation like this and Luketic fully utilizes that technique--from the kids winning to them spending their money in gloriously obscene ways. Based on the book Bringing Down the House: The Inside Story of Six M.I.T. Students Who Took Vegas for Millions 21 has the extra advantage of being a somewhat true story as well. But the script from Peter Steinfeld and Allan Loeb basically copies from other sources and never really distinguishes itself.
They ride together. They die together. They conquer the box office together.
The buddy sequel Bad Boys II proved a formidable opponent for an angst-y teen girl, a ship of cursed pirates and a bumbling secret agent at the box office weekend. The shoot 'em up actioner gunned down the competition with a lawful *$46.7 million, defeating the espionage spoof Johnny English, which snuck in at fourth place with a furtive $9.3 million, and the adolescent drama How To Deal, which opened in eighth position with a meager $5.8 million.
Bad Boys II also trounced last week's box office topper, Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl. The swashbuckling tale, however, did not experience the typical second week drop off and continued to sail smoothly with an impressive $33.3 million--down only 29 percent from last week.
But while moviegoers demonstrated they hadn't had their fill of pirates just yet, they certainly weren't interested in learning how to deal. How To Deal failed to strike a chord with teen audiences, and it looks as though star Mandy Moore will find out what happens when the box office "gets turned upside down."
Rounding out the Top Five were the period thriller The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, which came in third with $10.1 million, and the sci-fi actioner Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines, which landed in fifth place with $9.1 million.
THE TOP TEN
Sony Picture's R rated buddy actioner Bad Boys II premiered at the top of the box office with an ESTIMATED take of $46.7 million at 3,186 theaters. Its $14,658 per theater average was the highest of any film playing wide this weekend.
In the sequel, Miami narcotics detectives Mike Lowrey and Marcus Burnett become part of a high-tech task force assigned to stem the flow of designer ecstasy into the city and inadvertently uncover a deadly conspiracy involving a ruthless drug lord.
Directed by Michael Bay, it stars Will Smith, Martin Lawrence, Jordi Molla, Gabrielle Union and Peter Stormare.
Buena Vista Pictures' PG-13 rated fantasy actioner Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl, last week's box office champ, came in second in its second week with an ESTIMATED $33.3 million (-29%) at 3,359 theaters (+90 theaters; $9,914 per theater). Its cume is $132.2 million.
Directed by Gore Verbinski and produced by Jerry Bruckheimer, it stars Johnny Depp, Geoffrey Rush, Orlando Bloom and Keira Knightley.
Twentieth Century Fox's PG-13 rated period thriller The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen fell one spot to third place in its second week with an ESTIMATED $10.1 million (-56%) at 3,002 theaters (unchanged; $3,364 per theater). Its cume is approximately $42.4 million.
Directed by Stephen Norrington, it stars Sean Connery, Naseeruddin Shah, Peta Wilson, Tony Curran, Stuart Townsend, Shane West and Jason Flemyng.
Universal Pictures' PG rated spy spoof Johnny English took fourth place with an ESTIMATED $9.3 million at 2,236 theaters with a $4,159 per theater average.
In the film, the British Secret Service calls upon bumbling secret agent Johnny English when a plan to filch the monarchy's Crown Jewels comes to their attention.
Directed by Peter Howitt, it stars Rowan Atkinson, Natalie Imbruglia, Ben Miller and John Malkovich.
Warner Bros.' R rated sci-fi actioner Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines dropped two places to No. 5 in its third week with an ESTIMATED $9.1 million (-53%) at 3,404 theaters (-100; $2,701 per theater). Its cume is approximately $127.7 million.
Directed by Jonathan Mostow, it stars Arnold Schwarzenegger, Nick Stahl, Claire Danes and Kristanna Loken.
Buena Vista/Disney and Pixar Animation Studios' G rated computer-animated feature Finding Nemo fell only one spot in its eighth week to sixth place with an ESTIMATED $7.3 million (-14%) at 2,408 theaters (-163 theaters; $2,944 per theater). Its cume is approximately $303.8 million.
Directed and co-written by Pixar veteran Andrew Stanton, it features the voices of Albert Brooks, Ellen DeGeneres, Alexander Gould, Willem Dafoe and Brad Garrett.
*Box office estimates provided by Exhibitor Relations, Inc.
MGM's PG-13 rated Legally Blonde 2: Red, White & Blonde fell three rungs to seventh in its third week with an ESTIMATED $6.1 million (-49%) at 3,205 theaters (-170 theaters; $1,903 per theater). Its cume is approximately $75.4 million.
Directed by Charles Herman-Wurmfeld, it stars Reese Witherspoon, Sally Field, Regina King, Bob Newhart and Jennifer Coolidge.
New Line Cinema's PG-13 rated drama How To Deal debuted disappointingly in eighth place with an ESTIMATED $2.5 million at 2,319 theaters with a $2,501 per theater average.
Based on a combination of two young adult romance novels by Sarah Dessen (Someone Like You and That Summer), the film revolves around a teenage girl who doesn't believe in storybook romance--until she meets the right guy.
Directed by Clare Kilner, it stars Mandy Moore, Trent Ford, Alexandra Holden, Allison Janney and Peter Gallagher.
Sony Picture's PG-13 rated Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle dropped three places to ninth in its fourth week with an ESTIMATED $3.7 million (-48%) at 2,261 theaters (-941 theaters; $1,636 per theater). Its cume is approximately $89.1 million.
Directed by McG, it stars Drew Barrymore, Cameron Diaz, Lucy Liu and Bernie Mac.
Fox Searchlight's R rated sci-fi thriller 28 Days Later dropped one place to round out the Top Ten in its fourth week with an ESTIMATED $2.5 million (-40%) at 1,310 theaters (-86 theaters; $1,947 per theater). Its cume is approximately $33.4 million.
Directed by Danny Boyle, it stars Cillian Murphy, Naomi Harris, Brendan Gleeson and Megan Burns.
Miramax's R rated crime drama Dirty Pretty Things opened in five theaters this weekend and took in an ESTIMATED $101,000 with a strong $20,200 per theater average.
In the film, a kind-hearted Nigerian doctor who works at a seedy West London hotel finds a human heart in one of the toilets and uncovers something far more sinister than just a common crime.
Directed by Stephen Frears, it stars Chewitil Ejiofor, Sergi Lopez and AudreyTautou.
Fox Searchlight's R rated musical comedy Garage Days, meanwhile, opened in 23 theaters and took in an ESTIMATED $21,160 with a $920 per theater average.
The film is a coming-of-age comedy about a young Sydney band trying to get a foothold in the competitive world of rock n' roll.
Directed by Alex Proyas, it stars Kick Gurry, Maya Stange, Pia Miranda and Chris Sadrinna.
The Top 12 films this weekend grossed an ESTIMATED $137.6 million, up a whopping 33.63 percent from last year's take of $102.9 million. The Top 12 films were also up .58 percent from last weekend when they grossed $136.8 million.
Last year, DreamWorks' R rated drama Road to Perdition topped the box office in its second week of release with $15.4 million at 2,159 theaters (+326 theaters; $7,139 per theater average), Sony's G rated Stuart Little 2 debuted in the No. 2 position with $15.1 million at 3,225 theaters with a $4,644 per theater average and Sony's PG-13 rated Men in Black II followed in third place in its third week with $14.5 million at 3,641 theaters ((+30; $3,997 per theater).