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Big Shot: Confessions of a Campus Bookie

How does Jewish, Brooklyn-born Benny Silman (David Krumholtz) explain to his doting mother why he's going Arizona State University instead of staying on the East coast? He can't really, but once he arrives in the early 1990s, the campus is everything he dreamt it would be — a Coppertone commercial come to life. With babes in shorts as far as the eye can see and Las Vegas within driving distance, Benny's divides his time between classes and partying with his pals. He also has a head for numbers and is a reasonably good student, but such gifts eventually get him into trouble, as he bets $200 with local bookie Troy (James LeGros) on a football game, loses, and then winds up working for Troy, making book with every gambler on the campus. Eventually Benny goes into business for himself, but livin' large attracts attention. Chicago roller Joe Jr. (Nicholas Turturro) wants Benny to look for an angle, which the young man finds in campus basketball star Stevin 'Hedake' Smith (Tory Kittles), who agrees to shave points in close games and throw bets under the Vegas spread. One game puts $20,000 in Benny's pocket — but now he has to deal with psychotic gangster Big Red (Keith Loneker) and the Vegas mobsters who bankrolled him. Both parties expect more of the same action. Big Shot: Confessions of a Campus Bookie can be seen as a shot of Scorsese Lite. It's based on a true story about a criminal's rise to the top in a cutthroat world, as well as the dangers that can prey upon a bookie who's trying to keep his business under tight control — echoes can be found in both Goodfellas and Casino (both also based on true stories). However, Scorsese this is not — produced for the F/X cable network, the movie is done well but on a limited budget. Director Ernest R. Dickerson makes up for some shortcomings with a few bits of clever editing and camera-work, all built around Benny's first-person account. As Benny, David Krumholtz is an affable lead, brash but engaging enough to keep folks watching. Good support comes from other actors, although James LeGros is regrettably under-utilized. The ending isn't hard to predict, and it's only the impending sense of doom that keeps the viewer's attention. But when the fall from grace finally arrives, it's in the form of a talky (if historically accurate) account of the FBI's investigation of the point-shaving scheme. The real-life Benny Silman ends the film with a few comments — seeing and hearing him is a welcome experience, albeit one that comes across like a former drug addict telling schoolchildren not to smoke crack. Fox's DVD release of Big Shot: Confessions of a Campus Bookie features a clean anamorphic transfer (1.85:1) with audio in Dolby Digital 5.1 or Dolby 2.0 Surround. Features include a commentary with Benny Silman, director Dickerson, and star Krumholtz; an NCAA short that cautions folks on sports wagering; TV spots; and the featurette "The Real Bookie: Benny Tells His Story," which is an unprofessionally produced 26 minutes of Silman recounting his tale as he sits in a living room and speaks to a single video camera. Keep-case.
—JJB



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