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Based loosely on a scheme concocted by MIT students to beat the blackjack odds in Vegas, this slick caper — a sort of collegiate Ocean's 16, with significantly less star power but only a touch less oomph — mostly comes up aces.

Jim Sturgess (Across the Universe) plays a boyishly brilliant math student who's importuned by fetching Kate Bosworth to join a clutch of card-counting brainiacs in a profitable little extracurricular sideline: Under the supervision of scenery-chewing Prof. Kevin Spacey, they fly to Vegas on weekends, identify hot tables and rake in the chips for a few days before heading back to classes on Monday.

Card-counting being frowned upon by the casinos, there are disguises and fake names involved, and casino enforcer Laurence Fishburn is on hand to lend a modicum of suspense. Presumably because director Robert Luketic knows that there's a limit to how exciting he'll be able to make the sight of cards being turned and chips being shoveled, much of 21 is taken up with the laying-out and explaining of a counting scheme that's going to go right over most moviegoers' heads.

Still, despite some credibility-stretching plot twists — and a romance with next to no chemistry — the film is probably sharp enough to keep its youngish target audience from wishing there were slot machines in the lobby to offer an escape.

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Bob Mondello, who jokes that he was a jinx at the beginning of his critical career — hired to write for every small paper that ever folded in Washington, just as it was about to collapse — saw that jinx broken in 1984 when he came to NPR.