Time: 123 mins.
SYNOPSIS: A brilliant, young pre-Med student joins a secret group run by a professor and uses his math genius to play Blackjack in Las Vegas in an effort to earn enough money to pay for Harvard. Of course, the lure of big money and the rush of winning grab hold of him, making him reckless and drawing the attention of the casinos' strongmen who know he's "cheating" and will stop at nothing to stop his success.
BOTTOM LINE: After watching the History Channel documentary about this true life tale, we decided to give the Hollywood version a try. We expected it to be exciting and entertaining since half of the film takes place in Las Vegas – a place notorious for sinfully bad behavior. What we didn't expect was to be downright bored. Granted it is a film about card-counting students and how they teamed up to shake the casinos down and pay for their educations. Since they aren't technically gambling – they're not playing with their money and they don't lose – the bite is taken out of the card-playing segments. Sure, they eventually garner the attention of a security company – led by Fishburne – that really hates card-counters and is not afraid to use physical violence to end their winning ways, but since they live to tell the tale, they're not very scray. I wouldn't want to meet them in a back alley, but they aren't exactly allowed to be killers – murder is still a crime in Vegas – so one never feels to sorry for our hero.
Sturgess is convincing as a young nerd who gets sucked into the high-roller lifestyle, the plot is just to cliched for him to make much of the role. We've seen this character a million times before and as likable as he is, I was never connected enough to his troubles to really care if he made it into Harvard Med or not. Even if you don't know the original story, there are no surprises here making the ending almost painful to watch. I'm sure living through this little escapade was a barrel of fun. Too bad that doesn't translate to the big screen. Sturgess is initially too mopey and then too arrogant, but at least when he was being an asshole he was showing emotion. The only actor that brings life to the film is Fishburne. He is not a man you want to cross. Spacey and Bosworth are clearly bored with their parts, doing the minimum necessary, as the snarky professor and cute, love interest. The rest of the team is forgettable. While certainly well-crafted, there's just something about the plot that never comes together in an original or overly compelling way. Though it does prove that you need to be a math whiz to win in Vegas.