There's plenty to like in 21. Robert Luketic's direction is stylish, and meshes well with the glitz and glamour of the Las Vegas setting that a majority of the film takes place in. Accordingly, the movie moves at a nice pace, and only slows to a noticeable halt during a handful of scenes. The acting is pretty good across the board, not only from veterans like Kevin Spacey or Laurence Fishburne, but also from younger leads Jim Sturgess and Kate Bosworth. There's also plenty to dislike in 21 though. The main fault is in the script, which suffers from a case of bland characterization and story beats. It's the typical rise-fall study that comes with the heist film genre, and while a admittedly clever twist in the third act tries to shake things up, it doesn't save the entire script from an overwhelming sense of familiarity. It's hard to root for characters when they struggle amid very ideal circumstances (the MIT-attending protagonist's main struggle is the fact that he can't afford to go to Harvard), and so this lack of relatability takes away from any impact that the poker games should have. You never find yourself caring all that much whether these characters are successful or not in their card counting scheme, and that hurts the film a lot. It probably doesn't help that the film doesn't even try to explain how card counting really works, so we as viewers are left in the dark as to what's truly going on.
"Winner winner chicken dinner?" Not quite.