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2008, Movie, PG-13, 123 mins

Review

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Loosely based on the real-life exploits of a team of MIT math geeks who used a sophisticated card-counting system to win millions at Las Vegas' blackjack tables, Robert Luketic's movie is a predictable moral tale enacted by blandly pretty young things who bear little resemblance to the average brainiac.

Blue-collar MIT senior Ben Campbell (UK actor Jim Sturgess) has just been accepted into Harvard Medical School: Now all he has to do is figure out how to pay for it. Ben and his geeky pals (Josh Gad, Sam Golzari) have spent the last year angling for a science prize in robotics, but something far more lucrative is about to come Ben's way, courtesy of math Professor Micky Rosa (Kevin Spacey, who also produced). Rosa has figured out a just-about surefire way to win at blackjack, a combination of conventional card counting, code words and carefully orchestrated teamwork. He's trained a hand-picked team of students to put his system into action, and he happens to be down one player: He wants Ben, whose "brain is like a goddamn Pentium chip," to step in. Ben demurs -- he's a nose-to-the-grindstone kind of guy, not a risk-taker – but sexy cardsharp Jill Taylor (Kate Bosworth) reels him in and Ben quickly becomes Micky's star pupil. Soon he's raking in the big bucks, romancing Jill, stealing the spotlight from golden boy Fisher (Jacob Pitts) and leaving his old friends in the lurch. The question isn't whether it's all going south but when, especially once he's on the radar of remorseless casino loss-prevention specialist Cole Williams (Laurence Fishburne): Card counting may be legal, but the house advantage is sacred in Vegas, and that makes Ben and friends miserable sinners.

Screenwriters Peter Steinfeld and Allan Loeb successfully transformed Ben Mezrich's Bringing Down the House: The Inside Story of Six M.I.T. Students Who Took Vegas for Millions into ruthlessly formulaic entertainment, which Luketic polished to a high gloss, and to his credit, he nails the neon seductiveness of Las Vegas. But the end result is still utterly predictable, thoroughly disposable and less true than truthy. Jeffrey Ma, the real-life "Ben," has a cameo as a dealer at the Planet Hollywood casino. leave a comment --Maitland McDonagh

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