First of all, I’m not crazy about the title “21.” Sure, it has a double meaning – it’s the age of the characters in the movie and it’s a popular game played in Las Vegas, which is the primary setting. But when you’re fighting for shelf space with titles like “Inbred Rednecks” and “Black People Hate Me and They Hate My Glasses,” “21” just doesn’t cut it. If director Eli Frankel needs an eye-catching title that also happens to be accurate, I’d like to suggest “Five Jerks Go to Vegas.”You’ve probably known people like Justin Sellers and his friends, and you probably choose not to hang out with them anymore. I know I wouldn’t even want to share an elevator ride with them, much less a weekend trip to Vegas. And as the movie begins, that’s pretty much how the five feel about each other. Good friends when they met as college freshman, they are now seniors on the verge of graduating and have fallen out of touch. As in the “Big Chill”, they are reunited for the funeral of one of their old gang, although only Justin and the dead man’s best friend (lover?) Martin actually show up for the event. Justin gets it in his head that the group should get together one more time, despite the reluctance of frat boys Rob and Jim, as well as Sam, who appears to have a life and a girlfriend. Thus the ever-mythic road trip to Vegas commences.
Justin makes a ton of yearning references to “the way we used to be,” as if these guys were the Rat Pack or something. The boys squabble and pick apart each other’s lives with such venom, it’s difficult to believe they ever were friends. A flashback or two might have been helpful. Instead, while these whiny jackasses babble on and on, we are forced to entertain ourselves by figuring out which one we like least. For me it was no contest – watching the ultra-obnoxious Rob, played by Michæl Leo Shay, is like sitting through a marathon of those David Arquette 1-800-CALL-ATT commercials. When Frankel attempts to inject some comic relief by having Rob and Jim visit a whorehouse in the middle of nowhere, it provides one of the few satisfying moments in the movie – the smirk is finally wiped off Rob’s face.
I don’t know whether or not “21” is autobiographical, but it plays that way; it’s straight out of the same “me and my buddies” mold as too many other first-time writer/director efforts, and the conflicts are too generic. The adage still applies: just because it happened to you doesn’t mean it’s interesting.