There is probably a fascinating motion picture to be made about the seedy underworld of online gambling (a thriving multi-billion dollar industry), but Brad Furman’s Runner Runner isn’t it. To add to the disappointment, we have two lead actors involved that clearly have better things to do and have spent the last several years doing them. Runner Runner isn’t worth their time or ours.
Justin Timberlake plays Richie, a poker whiz who’s going for his Master’s Degree at Princeton when his financial woes lead to him to Costa Rica to seek out Ivan Block (Ben Affleck), who runs the largest online gaming site in the world. They become friends and business partners, but Richie soon learns his new glamorous life is a lot more dangerous than he thought. In short, Ivan is Gordon Gekko. Richie is Charlie Sheen’s character. In the Daryl Hannah role of the girl who’s caught between both men is Gemma Arterton of Quantum of Solace and Hansel&Gretel: Witch Hunters fame. And there’s Anthony Mackie as a FBI agent hot on Ivan’s trail.
The most memorable item about the pic is its lovely scenery with Puerto Rico doubling for Costa Rica. That’s about where my praise ends. The performances aren’t bad, but the actors aren’t given much to work with. Affleck is essentially recreating his character from a stronger effort, 2000’s Boiler Room. Timberlake is serviceable, but we’ve seen him much better in The Social Network when he has a character that’s more fully developed. Arterton’s thinly written love triangle with the two principles is perfunctory.
Runner Runner‘s main failure is the director and writers utter failure to generate any suspense. Ivan Block is a bad guy, but the audience never feels that Richie’s life is truly in danger. As mentioned, the picture’s subject is ripe for examination but you won’t find it in this by the numbers and lazy effort. 2008’s 21, with Jim Sturgess and Kevin Spacey, focused more on blackjack and it’s nothing special either, but at least it was directed with energy.
The good news is that Mr. Timberlake and Mr. Affleck have been doing remarkable work over the last few years, in their respective musical and directorial careers. Runner Runner is the type of movie that they don’t need to waste their time with anymore, but unfortunately they did. My advice is just to ignore it and pop in Argo or look forward to Gone Girl or cue up “Mirrors” and “Suit and Tie” to appreciate what they’re capable of.
** (out of four)