Cliché is the game and blackjack the artifice of this campus thriller about MIT students who learn to count cards and rake in millions in Las Vegas. Based on a true story, the team of six stereotypes — oops, students — uses a code language to help them go unnoticed at the tables, under the direction of their professor (Kevin Spacey).
Suspense is eked into the film in the form of Lawrence Fishburne, a casino worker trained to sniff out card-counters and kick their ass. Meanwhile, a stale exercise in Vegas lore fills the screen, and our once-dopey hero Ben (Jim Sturgess) suddenly trades the scruffy Freitag messenger bag for Gucci leather and walks the walk. It’s a slick, neon ride to the top and back down, and with Robert Luketic’s direction, every action — from Ben’s distancing himself from his nerd friends to lying about winning a scholarship to his mom — feels predetermined by the Hollywood scriptwriting powers-that-be. Surprise, surprise: money’s not everything in the end, but there’d be little else to ooh and aah about here without it.