21 (2 stars)


(12A) 123min


Robert Luketic’s unfaithful adaptation of Ben Mezrich’s book Bringing Down the House: The Inside story of Six MIT Students Who Took Vegas For Millions can’t decide whether it’s high stakes or high school. In real life a Chinese-American student at MIT joined a blackjack club run by a teacher who had mastered a counting system to boost the odds of winning. In the film, the Chinese-American becomes your stereotypical, brainy Asian sidekick while the principal role of Ben Campbell is played by rising British star Jim Sturgess – clearly, Hollywood still doesn’t like to gamble on ethnic leads in mainstream tales. Ben’s voiceover on the opening credits reveals that he makes big money gambling, so his concerns about how he’s going to pay for Harvard Med-School immediately give away the fact that he’s going to win then lose the cash, thus robbing the film of the bulk of its dramatic tension.

Director Luketic’s heavy-handed and obvious approach, particularly to portraying human emotions, has been a feature of his career-to-date, from Win a Date With Ted Hamilton to Monster-in-Law and Legally Blonde. This clunkiness is exemplified by the scene in which Ben is persuaded to join the gamblers by a beautiful girl (Kate Bosworth). The pick-up scene where she shops for a tie is lifted straight from the record-buying scene in Pretty in Pink, but is nowhere near as touching.

Meanwhile, Kevin Spacey yet again plays a slimy villain and there is a ludicrous sub-plot that isn’t in the book in which Laurence Fishburne plays a Vegas security guard out for revenge. This is filmmaking by numbers and it’s not a winning formula.

General release from Fri 18 Apr.


  • 2 stars
  • 2008
  • US
  • 2h 3min
  • 12A
  • Directed by: Robert Luketic
  • Cast: Jim Sturgess, Kevin Spacey, Kate Bosworth, Laurence Fishburne, Aaron Yoo

Spacey plays a professor who teaches six MIT students to card count in this heavy-handed, unfaithful adaptation of Ben Mazrich's book, which was based on the gambling exploits of card shark Jeffrey Ma. This is filmmaking by numbers and it's not a winning formula.