Ben Campbell (Jim Sturgess), a senior at MIT, aspires to attend Harvard Medical School but lacks the means to pay the tuition due to his working-class background. He pins his hopes on winning a rare full-ride scholarship but lacks a "moving" story to separate him from the other applicants. Ben's lucky break comes when Professor Mickey Rosa (Kevin Spacey) discovers his uncanny ability to solve complex math equations in his head and recruits him to join his card-counting team of students with the express intent of winning as much money as possible in Vegas. While card counting isn't illegal, the casinos have their own methods of discouraging the behavior. For Ben, this experience will give him one hell of a story to tell Harvard.

The movie is based on the popular book Bringing Down the House: The Story of Six MIT Students Who Took Vegas for Millions, the true story of a group of young adults who utilize a "high-low" counting technique to manipulate the odds of the popular casino game, 21 (aka blackjack). Cinematically speaking, it doesn't break any new ground—it's a modern day Risky Business using gambling instead of call girls as the vehicle—but I can think of worse ways to spend two hours.

Shot with Panavision Genesis HD cameras, the video is as pristine as freshly fallen snow at MIT. There are many visual styles throughout—the colder landscapes and bluish tones of Boston contrasted with the rich neon lights of Vegas. Black levels are solid although never put to any real test, and resolution is razor sharp with the Vegas skyline showing its full glory in 1080p.

The Dolby TrueHD 5.1 soundtrack won't blow you away with dynamic explosions or in-your-face action, but the subtle discrete effects are just as impressive, especially in the Vegas casinos. I've been known to spend an hour or two playing cards, and there were moments I could swear I was at the table with Ben bringing down the house. Dialog is crystal clear with a lifelike tonal quality sounding more like a live performance than something reproduced from an optical disc.

The supplements are highlighted by an entertaining commentary from director Robert Luketic and producers Dana Brunetti and Michael De Luca talking mostly about Vegas rather than the technical aspects of moviemaking (which normally bores me to death). Three featurettes include a history of blackjack and the "high-low" system of counting cards, a production piece about shooting the film, and a seven-minute exploration into the sets and costume design. Finally, there is a Java-enabled blackjack game that is painfully slow to load on the Panasonic DMP-BD30 but mildly entertaining once it's up and running.

I found the subject matter to be quite entertaining, and I particularly enjoyed the performances of Jim Sturgess and Kate Bosworth (Ben's love interest). As with many Hollywood productions, the third act is a bit of a stretch from a believability standpoint, but isn't that why we watch movies? Recommended.

Release Date: July 22, 2008

Film: 7 out of 10
Picture: 9 out of 10
Sound: 9 out of 10

Review System

Panasonic DMP-BD30

JVC DLA-RS1 projector
Stewart FireHawk screen (76.5" wide, 16:9)

Onkyo PR-SC885 pre/pro
Anthem PVA-7 Amplifier
Belkin PF60 power conditioner

M&K S-150s (L, C, R)
M&K SS-150s (LS, RS, SBL, SBR)
SVS PC-Ultra subwoofer

Monoprice HDMI cables (source to pre/pro)
Best Deal analog-audio cables
PureLink HDC Fiber Optic HDMI Cable System (15 meters) from pre/pro to projector