Out of print for more than 30 years, now available for the first time as an eBook, this is the controversial story of John Wooden's first 25 years and first 8 NCAA Championships as UCLA Head Basketball Coach. Notre Dame Coach Digger Phelps said, "I used this book as an inspiration for the biggest win of my career when we ended UCLA's all-time 88-game winning streak in 1974."

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21 (6/10)

by Tony Medley

Running Time: 123 minutes

Based on a true story as written by Ben Mezrich in the September 2002 issue of Wired magazine, the fictional plot devices inserted by writers Peter Steinfeld and Allan Loeb and director Robert Luketic detract from what is a fascinating story.

And that story is that some MIT students actually did take on Vegas and beat it by counting cards. In the film, Micky Rosa (Kevin Spacey) recruits a team of bright MIT students to make a lot of money by counting cards playing 21 in Las Vegas.  His prime recruit is the brilliant Ben Campbell (Jim Sturgess), who he recruits to join his team that includes Jill Taylor (Kate Bosworth), whom Ben had been eyeing on campus anyway, Choi (Aaron Yoo, who was so good in “Disturbia”), Kianna (Liza Lapira), and Fisher (Jacob Pitts). While there, Cole (Laurence Fishburne) becomes suspicious.

The story of these young kids taking on big, bad Las Vegas should have been compelling enough. Unfortunately, Hollywood had to make something really good worse by adding a kind of silly love story and a previous enmity between Cole and Micky, both of which detract from the action and what should have been tension.

Further, there are some plot holes so big you can drive a truck through them. In the first place, I doubt that the MIT students who really did pull this off, did it all in the same casino. But that’s what Micky and his cohorts do because they do it all under the nose of Cole. Second, they certainly aren’t circumspect because they all come in together and they all apparently stay together, when Micky specifically tells them that they are not to acknowledge that they know one another.

The big tipoff that a deck is hot is for one of the scouts to put his or her arms together behind their backs. Seems to me that this is such an unnatural pose that it would be a real red flag for someone who is looking for something, like Cole is. But maybe that’s what happened.

Then, the main idea of counting cards is that it can only be done between shuffles. Once the cards are shuffled, you have to start counting all over again. The cards can be “hot” really for only a very few hands. But in this film Ben is told that a deck is hot and he stays at that same table for what seems like all night.

The acting is pretty good throughout. But because of the script and the story and the too-long running time, this is a film that is memorable only for what it could have been, much like Spacey’s “Beyond the Sea” (2004), the enjoyment of which he diminished by using his own voice instead of Bobby Darin’s.