Cast: Justin Timberlake, Gemma Arterton, Anthony Mackie, Yul Vasquez, John Heard, and Ben Affleck
Written By: Brian Koppelman and David Levien
Directed By: Brad Furman
Runner Runner is yet another Wall Street clone, this time set in the seedy underworld of online gambling. The film takes the fairly fresh idea of depicting internet betting, but reveals very little about this virtual world and instead uses recycled plot devices to tell a familiar story. As a thriller, there’s little in the way of suspense. As a drama, there’s little in the way of intrigue. Basically, there’s nothing to see here.
Princeton grad student Richie Furst (Justin Timberlake) is paying his tuition through his proficiency at playing online poker. He loses his life’s savings after one bad game, but believes he’s been swindled. Penniless and out of options, Richie travels to Costa Rica to confront the website’s creator, online gambling tycoon Ivan Block (Ben Affleck). Ivan appreciates Richie’s moxie in tracking him down and not only pays him back all the money he lost, but offers Richie an opportunity to work for him. So here we have the broke whiz kid being seduced by the shady but charming multi-millionaire into a world of wealth beyond his wildest dreams. Is it all too good to be true? Does Ivan really see Richie as a protege or a sucker? Haven’t I seen this movie before?
It’s hard to say what went so wrong here as there are talented people involved in the production. Director Brad Furman has shown competence behind the camera having helmed the meaty crime thriller The Lincoln Lawyer. Screenwriters Brian Koppelman and David Levien are no stranger to gambling dramas having penned the very entertaining poker thriller Rounders. The filmmakers certainly have enough pedigree and experience in this genre, but the result here is a dull slog. The tedium of the film is all the more troubling as all the plot points speed by. That’s not to say that the film is fast paced, just abrupt to the point of ineptitude.
Obviously Timberlake is no Daniel Day-Lewis, but the pop star has displayed acting chops in the past. As a young hotshot who gets in over his head, this is perhaps the worst performance Timberlake has ever given. Ok, perhaps that honor goes to his role as Jacques Grande in The Love Guru, but this is certainly his weakest outing as a leading man. Timberlake doesn’t bring much to the role, he just kind of recites his lines and hits his marks but never gives you any real reason to care about or root for this guy. The film is worn-out as it is and Timberlake certainly doesn’t help inject any energy into the proceedings.
As the villain, Affleck fares slightly better as at least he gets to ham it up once in a while and show some personality. But watching Affleck onscreen, you can’t help but get the feeling that he had some time off and some bills to pay. Sure, the script doesn’t give either leading man a lot to work with, but better performers may have been able to elevate this material.
Gemma Arterton is nice to look at but unremarkable as a love interest to both Timberlake and Affleck’s characters. Where do her loyalties lie? Is she really falling for Richie or just manipulating him? You won’t really care. Anthony Mackie shows up as an FBI Agent trying to take down Ivan and his illegal operation. He plans to use Richie as an informant to do so. Again, there’s just nothing new, interesting, exciting or surprising about how this all turns out.
Runner Runner isn’t even amongst the better of the second-tier Wall Street knockoffs. It’s more comparable to something like 2005’s Two for the Money, a sports gambling thriller starring Al Pacino and Matthew McConaughey. Remember that one? Didn’t think so. If there’s any saving grace, it’s that the movie runs under 90 minutes and at least doesn’t commit the sin of dragging out its run-of-the-mill story. Runner Runner is the type of bland and forgettable movie best viewed on Netflix streaming or by Red Box rental, if at all. As an audience, we’ve been dealt a bad hand. You’re best bet is to fold your cards and sit this round out.