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Save some time play blackjack instead of '21'

By G. Michael Dobbs Managing Editor 21 My wife and I had wanted to see his film, based on the controversial book "Bringing Down the House," but had missed it in theaters. I'm glad we did. Although I watched the entire film, my wife realized that she could make phone calls and take a shower and still not lose her place in the story. That's because the film opens with a sequence that telegraphs much of the general plotline. Director Robert Luketic may understand comedy he directed the mega-hit "Legally Blonde" but he doesn't understand how to handle suspense. "21" tells the apparently highly fictionalized tale of a MIT professor recruiting a group of students to learn how to count cards and win at blackjack in Las Vegas. Our hero, Ben Campbell (played by Jim Sturgess) is, of course, an overachieving nerd who is looking for some way to make $300,000 for Harvard Medical School and reluctantly goes along when he is asked by his math professor (a smooth villain played by Kevin Spacey), the leader of the team. Naturally the girl who is the object of his secret crush is a member of the team and naturally he gets all sorts of self-confidence as he begins to win. Naturally, there is a big fall awaiting him. There are a couple of twists that are supposed to be surprises but aren't really. Much was made of this film as being a depiction of real events, but the book on which it was based has been highly criticized by the actual members of the MIT blackjack team for inventing characters and events. The filmmakers themselves proved to be pretty gutless by casting a white guy in the lead role that is based on an Asian-American. "21" isn't worth your time. The Extra Girl You've heard of Chaplin, Keaton and Lloyd when it comes to silent humor. Perhaps you know who Mack Sennett and Hal Roach were. There's a good chance, though, you've not heard of the era's most successful female comic actor Mabel Normand. Normand was never as big a star as Keaton or Chaplin who was an early co-star of hers but she was very popular and worked during the start of the film industry with many of its most influential people. Kino on Video has now released one of the Normand's features, "The Extra Girl," on DVD and while it's not a classic, it's a solidly made, enjoyable comedy starring a woman who clearly knew how to act and how to take a pratfall. And she was clearly comfortable looking ridiculous. "The Extra Girl" tells the story of small-town girl who is movie crazy and convinced she could be an actress. By a twist of events she wins a contest with a film studio and skips town for Hollywood just in time to avoid an arranged marriage with a prosperous business owner. Once in Hollywood, it's discovered the studio doesn't want her as an actress, but is willing to give her a job in the costume department. This is a sweet little film and one that is well worth discovering. The print quality is very good and as an extra Kino has included a short comedy with Normand from 1913. This short gives the viewer a wonderful chance to see how far filmmaking had come in a decade. Normand had setbacks both privately and professionally that certainly inhibited her career. Beset by poor health, she died in 1930 at the age of 35. Once again, if you are an adventurous film fan willing to go back in time to discover a gem, latch onto a copy of "The Extra Girl."
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