Friday, June 20, 2008



Las Vegas and Casinos have been haunts that trigger the incredible out of even epic directors like Steven Soderbergh, who couldn’t resist creating a quake to ruin Al Pacino in his ‘Ocean’s Thirteen’. Perhaps Luketic didn’t go that techy, but he still went far enough, suggesting that MIT had a secret Blackjack club trained by their Math Professor Mickey Rosa (Spacey), to get very, very rich playing in the underground. They’d lost a member since a ‘Jim’ went on to join a job offered by Google, so they’re on the hunt for a new hand, who’s hopefully a genius.

Benjamin Campbell (Sturgess) is the one, as he diverts Mickey’s eyes onto himself, by answering a couple of questions in Math class, that’d already been addressed by a 15 year old in Mark Haddon’s ‘A Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night time’. 21 is from a book too, named ‘Bringing down the House’ by Ben Mezrich, so I guess it’s a question of originality; Or since the question is trivial enough to be solved by simple statistics, I think Luketic erred big time by using it as a tool to induce him into the Blackjack club, which is quite big, because it’s a Math Professor who needs to be impressed and not a no-brainer lass!

After practice sessions of quick card counting, code-words, signals and an exceptionally outrageous sequence of ‘Training under pressure’, Ben’s pronounced fit enough to make a move on to Vegas, with Mickey adding a word saying, “We’re not gambling, Ben. It’s just counting cards… You will not get out of control”. Well, the words might be touching if this were a sports movie, but you realize you’re wrong in misjudging them, for they make perfect sense in a later context, with a revelation in store.

Ben forays into Las Vegas and with their combined tricks, the ‘team’ romp home with victories getting them big money: Ben gets his share too, which he saves in a panel in his false-ceiling to pay for his Harvard Medical School fee. They ride on and on, inter-member rivalries and separations galore and trouble in form of a Bruiser Cole Williams (Fishburne), who punches rock-hard on anyone who dare ‘Count Cards’ in his Casino, with a rings on every finger. In the end, we observe that the narration is not only to us, but (Outrageously!) to the dumbstruck Harvard Medic Dean, to whom Ben quotes, “I won money and lost it two times. Isn’t that a dazzling enough experience?!”.

Incredulous though you feel, but the film is fun to a good value all the same, with some really good Buffoonery in form of Choi (Aaron Yoo), and Kianna (Liza Lapira), and a really naughty sequence led by Kevin Spacey. Sturgess impresses more by his looks than his performance, thanks to him being a photocopy of Robert De Niro in his primetime, probably without his trademark mole on his right cheek. The actor feels otherwise, as he through Ben, tells us that he'd been told he looks like Tom Cruise! Well whatever he's been told, he's more De Niro than Tom, and anyway, this is a compliment to him. The movie is remarkably colourful, with aerial shots of Vegas and its casinos, red carpet welcomes, Blackjack tables in blue, red, green and purple, good special effects in the card dealing, and some profligately toy-like coins. Some good club music by David Sardy, and lavish photography add to the Las Vegas flavour. Kevin Spacey and Laurence Fishburne look too meek in their roles, probably as much wasted as Paul Giamatti was in BIG FAT LIAR, but Spacey managed to impress ultimately in the wacky climax sequence, rather than his stone-faced , ‘business-like’ performance throughout the film in which he says ruthlessly to a failed Ben, “I’m not your Father”.

The movie claims to be a true story: Something that makes you gasp with awe. Even if they were really capable of doing it, Ben lost the money totally anyway. So even if a trip to Vegas is a waste of time, a trip to the Cinema Hall is certainly not, for you’d be tutored the game of Blackjack along with Ben Campbell, something Martin Campbell could’ve added to his Bond-flick to make it even more enthralling, than the one with the most irksome middle-part ever…

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