posted April 02, 2008 05:28:07 PM CDT | 3 comments

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From films like Rounders and the Ocean’s Eleven series to TV’s "Las Vegas" and endless "World Series of Poker" broadcasts, the allure of high stakes gambling has been exploited to the fullest in recent years, but bombs like Lucky You prove that audiences may be growing weary of the Texas Hold ‘Em craze. In this ode to the joys of blackjack, director Robert Luketic (Legally Blond, Monster-In-Law) does a fine job of capturing the glitz and glamour of Sin City, using so many flashy camera angles and slo-mo shots that the film occasionally borders on gambler porn. But his loose adaptation of the book "Bringing Down the House" is far from perfect.

The mostly true story follows a team of MIT students led by devilish professor Micky Rosa (Kevin Spacey, who also produced the film), who schools the overachieving math nerds in the ways of counting cards at blackjack tables in Vegas casinos. The elaborate system involves supporting players who bet the minimum, counting how many low and high cards have been played at each table. When the table “heats up,” meaning most of the high cards have yet to be played, he or she discreetly signals a designated numbers whiz, who then comes over and proceeds to run the table for tens of thousands of dollars.

As Ben Campbell, the sharpest card in the deck, relative newcomer Jim Sturgess (Across the Universe) is by far the film’s greatest strength. With his floppy hair, laconic charm and boy-next-door looks that fall somewhere between Jake Gyllenhaal and Paul McCartney, he’s entirely believable as a sweet, shy whiz kid who dreams of banging a hottie like Kate Bosworth (whose ice princess lures the reluctant Ben to the team in the first place) even when he’s making robots with his equally geeky buddies (including scene-stealer Josh Gad, of TV’s "Back To You"). Seen through his eyes, Vegas plays like an adult wonderland of sin and sensation, so it’s easy to imagine his innocent soul (the only reason he agrees to the plot is to raise the $350,000 he needs to attend Harvard Medical School) corrupted by greed, lust, gluttony and envy. Spacey is his perfect foil, poised like the snake in the Garden of Eden to guide his protégé down the path to temptation, while Laurence Fishburne (who’s been somewhat AWOL since The Matrix series ended) delivers a fearsome turn as a security chief who doesn’t take too kindly to the team taking his casino for a ride.

The problem is that the movie can’t quite find the right balance between intelligent character study and youth-oriented thriller and, in charting the middle ground, winds up pleasing nobody. Adults will find the film a little too lacking in depth, while teens will be frustrated by the occasional boring stretches in its two-hour length. The result is kind of like going all-in when all you have is a pair of deuces.

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