Tuesday, February 2, 2010

“21” – Can screenwriters even read?

Before I get into the review I have to tell you I have the best wife. She loves Las Vegas. When we watched “21,” she kept saying how much she wanted to go to Vegas (we go at least once a year). She likes playing Pai Gow poker, she likes the shows, but she also likes watching me gamble. I’m not making this up. She will actually ask when I’m going to go play craps because she likes to watch. She even likes watching me play Blackjack. Like I said, she’s the best.

A few years ago, we were at a friend’s house in San Diego, when I noticed the book “Bringing Down the House” on their coffee table (this is the book that “21” is based on). They said it was good, so I picked it up and began reading. Less than two days later, I finished what was probably one of the best reads I had had in a long time. When I first saw the previews for the film, I was worried that they were going to ruin the book. So, I avoided seeing the film for several months. As it turned out, Hollywood did exactly what I thought, trashing a great story.

It always amazes me that studios will purchase the rights to books, then hire multiple screenwriters to butcher a story that everyone already likes. Sometimes, they just write a completely different story, keeping just the title and main character consistent. If you don’t believe me, read “I am Legend” or any of the Jason Bourne books. It’s no secret that books are nearly always better than the movies based on those books, so why does Hollywood insist on continuing this horrible trend? Oh yeah, because they’re morons. Just once, I’d love for an author to tell whichever studio comes after their book to go pound sand.

I’d also love to know why it took three writers to convert this book to a screenplay when the book was less than 200 pages long? I’m always confused by this, regardless of the length of the book.

There were several changes to the story that really pissed me off. The smallest of these changes was the name of the main character. Why the hell is that necessary? The book was based on a true story, but the author had changed quite a few things, including the names of the people involved. He even added some characters and plot points to make the story more exciting. So, again, why the hell did they change the name of the main character from Kevin to Ben? I’m guessing it’s not a coincidence that the lead writer’s name is also Ben. That guy definitely deserves a lamp-shaped enema for that move.

The next item on the list is that Ben is trying to get into Harvard Medical school and has to convince some uppity Harvard asshole why he deserves the full scholarship ($300K, doesn’t Harvard blow?) over the other applicants. Not only was this completely unoriginal, but it didn’t even make any sense. Ben is a mechanical engineer who excels in advanced mathematics and is working on a robot prototype with his friends. Why the fuck would he want to be a doctor? Wouldn’t that mean that all the time he spent at MIT was a complete waste of time? I’m fairly certain that medical doctors don’t use calculus, let alone advanced mathematics. Keep in mind, THREE cocksuckers wrote this shit.

Next, we have the required love story. I’m putting it out there right now that Kate Bosworth is not even close to as hot as people seem to think. Although, I might buy that she is the hottest girl at MIT (that’s assuming she can spell MIT, let alone attend school there). Not only was this not in the book, but the closest thing to a relationship he has in the book is nailing a bunch of prostitutes (seriously).

Moving on, we have the professor who is running the scheme. The scheme, if you don’t already know, is that a group of MIT students, managed by the professor, come up with a way to beat Blackjack in a complicated team card-counting scheme. What they changed here was the size of the role the professor had in the story. In the book, he represents a bunch of people who have invested in the “business”, but pretty much disappears once the team really gets going. He also has a second team working the tables, who the main character eventually notices. In the film, there are no investors or another team and the professor is providing all of the money. I don’t about you, but the idea of a second team and unknown investors is much more intriguing than an egotistic, mysteriously rich professor. In all fairness, Kevin Spacey played the role very well, but my guess is that the role was only made larger to justify casting Kevin Spacey.

Finally, there’s the casino security guy (Laurence Fishburne). I honestly don’t remember if this character was in the book, but there were definitely no basement beatings of the main character in the book. In fact, the professor is very clear to his players that they should simply get up and leave if the casino staff discovers them. In both the book and film, they tell us that counting cards is not illegal, but once caught, the casino won’t let you continue to do it. In the book, he goes on further to say that they won’t touch them on the casino floor, but will invite them to “have a chat,” alluding to these beatings. But what movie wouldn’t be complete without some violence?

In addition to all of the changes, they were very sloppy with their story. Keep in mind, they are trying not to get caught. On their first night in Vegas, the professor is very clear that they will be using fake names and disguises, yet they blatantly arrive in the casino as a group, and none of them ever changes their names or bother wearing disguises. They also employ signals as part of their scheme, but when they give the “come over to this table” signal they look at the person they’re signaling and cross their arms behind their chairs in the most obvious way possible. They might as well trade cards with each other; it would save them some time. Did the writers think this was the best that a bunch of MIT geniuses could do? If they’re right, it’s no wonder our space and science programs are in the shitter.

The result of all this is another steaming pile of crap dumped on a great book. This won’t be the last time Hollywood fucks up a perfectly good book (one can always hope), but they could at least do us the courtesy of actually reading it first. If not, do us the courtesy of hiring just one illiterate screenwriter, instead of three.

Rating: Ask for all of your money back and use it to buy the book. When you’re done reading the book, mail it to the screenwriters with a post-it note that says what you would like them to do with it.

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