27 March, 2008

The House Always Wins

That's the rule stated in many casino-centric television shows and movies, but usually - in these same stories - the house doesn't win, and therein lie the plot. Here we have the movie 21 based on the nonfiction account of the MIT Blackjack Team. Far from a cute group of math/science nerds who play blackjack in their spare time, the MIT Blackjack Team was part of a world-wide card counting operation, created in the hopes of beating the casinos with mental agility. Card counting is not illegal (I repeat: not illegal), but if detected, card counters will be escorted off casino premises, because the rule of the game is that the house always wins.

I haven't seen 21, but the main character is played by Jim Sturgess of Across the Universe , the story revolves around people from MIT, and the soundtrack is pretty decent, so I wouldn't hesitate to invest a little time and money in the movie.

To get back to the soundtrack that I briefly mentioned, it's full of highs and lows. Unfortunately, or luckily depending on the way you look at it, the highs are never very high and the lows are inversely never very low. It's a light soundtrack that doesn't try very hard to be deep or add dimensions to the movie.

Start with "You Can't Always get What You Want", a light Rolling Stones tune made even lighter by an odd Soulwax remix. You follow that up with "Time To Pretend" by the groove/psych-tastic MGMT, and the lo-fi computer sound of LCD Soundsystem's "Big Ideas" and you have a very basic backdrop for MIT. On the casino side of things we've got the "Alright" by Knivez Out, which is a sweet little joint with a catchy piano hook. There's also Domino's "Tropical Moonlight" which is oddly very Gwen Stephani meets Casablanca meets the Muppets' cover of "Kokomo". Yeah, it's weird like that. "L.S.F." by Mark Ronson features Kasabian and is Vegas in musical form. If casinos aren't using this song to sell their own brand of magic, then they should be, because it got me excited about a part of the world that's never been on my travel list.

I just name-dropped the high points of the 21 soundtrack, and now for the low patches. There's the awkward pair of songs: "Young Folks" by Peter Bjorn and John, and "Shut Up and Drive" by Rihanna. Why would you ever choose two songs that have already seen their time in the musical spotlight as filler for your soundtrack? It's a little excessive, and unforgivably boring. "I Am the Unknown" by the Aliens follows the same melody through the whole song, and its honestly not a very good melody. UNKLE's "Hold My Hand" has a similar creativity deficit, while "Mad Pursuit" by Junkie XL is just tres annoying.

The rest of the album falls somewhere in between fun and lame, and has me wondering if the movie might just do the same thing. As I wrote before, there's a lot going for 21, and the soundtrack is far from outright misery for the ears, but it's also no There Will Be Blood.

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