Vegas hasn’t jumped the shark yet. It seems like within the last 5-10 years, Sin City has mushroomed in popularity, if that’s possible. I don’t know…maybe people have always been allured by a city out in the desert where vices can be explored in anonymity. A place where, as one character in 21 so aptly put it, “you can become anyone.”

It is that decadent, hedonistic ambience that attracts Ben Campbell, a broke MIT senior with aspirations of attending Harvard Medical School. Ben’s a genius, even by MIT standards. When he impresses one of his professors (Kevin Spacey, Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil), he is offered the chance of a lifetime – an opportunity to make more money than he’s ever seen. It seems as if Mickey, the good professor, has been leading a team of students in a most interesting extra-curricular activity: high stakes Blackjack aka 21. Every weekend they fly to Vegas where they unleash their brilliant minds on an unsuspecting casino by counting cards. They’d like Ben to join them, as he’s one of the most gifted students in his class. His crush, team member Jill Taylor (Kate Bosworth, Superman Returns) provides a little incentive, and soon Ben has entered a world previously seen in his dreams. In the words of Jim Jones, Ben is BALLLLINNNNNNNNNNNN. He claims that he’s saving money for med school tuition ($300K), and as soon as he gets that amount, he’s out. Of course the excitement of living a double life becomes intoxicating and he gets in too deep.

What I liked about 21 was that I got sucked in right along with Ben. Vegas is depicted as a separate universe, some otherworldly sensory paradise. The contrast between Vegas and Ben’s normal life in Boston was stark. Although he seemed to be living a fantasy, nothing seemed farfetched, which I guess is explained by the fact that the movie was inspired by a true story. This was the best movie I’ve seen lately, and it was well-acted and held my attention throughout. The main character was likable without being annoying and sympathetic without being wimpy. Kevin Spacey portrays Mickey as a presumably thoughtful professor, but we get a hint that something is not quite right. Laurence Fishburne (Akeelah and the Bee) also made an appearance as a casino employee who smells something fishy. 21 is a must-see Vegas movie. If you liked Rounders or Ocean’s 11-13 you will probably enjoy 21 as well.

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