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21

About The Film
"Who wouldn't want to go to Vegas and make a killing, not because of luck, but because you're smart about it?" asks Kevin Spacey, describing the appeal of the story behind 21.  Spacey says that though it seems like fantasy wish-fulfillment, in fact the film is inspired by a real group of M.I.T. students in the 1990s.  "I loved the juxtaposition between these kids' lives in Boston - where they were geeks with pencils in their pockets - and the lives they make for themselves in Vegas, where they can become anybody they want to be."

"You can become anyone you want in Vegas," says Robert Luketic, who directs the film.  "M.I.T. geniuses become rock stars.  They're given the keys to Las Vegas.  They have access to things that most of us can only dream of."

Long ago, Spacey's producing partner, Dana Brunetti, had heard the rumors about the M.I.T. math gurus who had used their skills for a very concrete purpose: they had figured out how to beat the odds at blackjack and take the Vegas casinos for millions.  "Ever since I started playing blackjack, I've been fascinated by the fact that it's beatable," says Brunetti.  "Then, by chance, a friend of mine was having dinner with a guy who used to be a card-counter on an earlier team.  I thought right away that it was a great idea for a movie."  Brunetti knew that the story would interest Spacey, "but it didn't go anywhere until Ben Mezrich wrote his story for Wired magazine."

Mezrich's article appeared in the September 2002 issue of Wired.  As it chronicled the budding geniuses at M.I.T. who had beaten Vegas at its own game, Mezrich's tale had everything - featuring high stakes action, incredibly close calls with Vegas security staff, and the up- and downsides of a glitzy, glamorous Vegas lifestyle, Mezrich's article was a true story that read like a Hollywood thriller.  Immediately struck by the possibilities, Brunetti contacted Mezrich, but the author's first impression was that one of the students was playing a prank (something that would not be out of character for an M.I.T. student).

"This guy calls me up and says, 'Hi, I'm Dana Brunetti, and I have Kevin Spacey on the line.'  Yeah, right.  I take down his number and say I'll call him back.  So I Google 'Dana Brunetti' - and he really is working with Kevin Spacey!"  Brunetti and Spacey had soon locked up the rights to the article.  

Coincidentally, Luketic also read the Wired story and thought it would be a great movie.  "I'd just gotten back from touring Europe to support Legally Blonde and was looking for my next project.  I read in Wired magazine about a team of brilliant M.I.T. students who'd beaten the house in Vegas - but when I called, I found out that Kevin Spacey had already bought the project.  Years passed, but then a script landed on my desk and it all came back to me.  I guess it was meant to be."

Producer Michael De Luca explains that the book taps into everyone's Vegas dream of beating the house.  "I've always been a blackjack fan," he says, "so after I read the book, I tried to pick up the counting method from the book.  It's hard for someone who's not a math genius, but it's infectious.  The few times you get the count right and you hit a hand for a lot of money, it feels really good."

When Mezrich's book hit the shelves, it became a phenomenon, staying on the bestsellers list for 59 weeks and moving 1.5 million copies.  Translated into twelve languages, the book continues to enjoy strong sales.

In order to adapt Mezrich's nonfiction book into a movie, the filmmakers made certain changes to the story, but the filmmakers point out that their dramatic license doesn't change what has made the book so popular.  "This is a fun movie - it's not meant to be a docudrama," says Dana Brunetti.  "We made some changes to the

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