Review: Runner Runner – Timberlake breaks badly
If you’ve ever played online poker then you have most likely experienced the aggravation of being cheated. Bamboozled when you know you have an unbeatable hand and yet you lose to an invisible player who seems to know not only what cards you are holding, but that he is miraculously going to be dealt the exact cards he needs in order to defeat you. The new film, Runner Runner, begins with exploring this interesting scenario, but before long you learn you’ve just been dealt a cinematic “bad beat.”
Justin Timberlake plays Richie Furst, a smart Princeton student who is paying his way through college by soliciting other students to gamble at an online casino site he promotes. When he is busted for his illegal activities by the school Dean, he decides to gamble his college nest egg in an online poker match that, if he wins, will cover his full tuition through the end of school and he can stop hustling for money.
Although Richie is statistically certain to win his big poker game, he still loses somehow. Then with the help of his genius Princeton pals he is able to mathematically prove that he has been cheated, so he takes his evidence and hops a plane to Costa Rica to confront the offshore website’s owner, Ivan Block (Ben Affleck), about his elicit gambling site and hopefully recover his tuition money. What could possibly go wrong?
On the surface, Block appears to be a legitimate business entrepreneur, who feels bad about what has happened to Richie, and he is so impressed with the college student’s gumption that he encourages the lad to quit school, join the team and obtain riches and women beyond his wildest dreams. Richie breaks bad and happily accepts the offer.
The wayward college student soon becomes romantically involved with Block’s girlfriend (played by the sexy Gemma Arterton, who you’ll remember as “Greta” from Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters), and he begins to realize that the insanely rich gambling mogul is actually a self-made mobster. Richie discovers himself being lied to, physically beaten and under surveillance by a violent FBI agent (Anthony Mackie), who wants him to rat out Brock.
As Richie starts finding himself between an ever bigger rock and a hard place, the film becomes increasingly unbelievable and eventually downright lame. A story that could have been an intriguing look at the world of online gaming and the off-shore organizations that run those rackets turns, instead, into a stereotypical crime drama with a muddy and ridiculous plot.
Director Brad Furman (The Lincoln Lawyer) was dealt a couple of aces in stars Affleck and Timberlake, but he was unable to develop a winning hand with the script written by Brian Koppelman and David Levien, who have experience with similar themes, having penned the films Ocean’s Thirteen and Rounders.
Timberlake and Affleck do the best they can with the incredibly week material they are given, and at least Affleck has a handful of good “bad-guy” lines, that he delivers with relish when they come. On a side note, to make Runner Runner more exciting, I found myself envisioning Affleck wearing the famous Batman cowl and imagining him as the caped crusader. I think he’s going to pull it off, people.
This film begins to redeem itself towards its finish, but then veers off into left-field again just to make sure it ends on an incompetent note as well. Runner Runner is reminiscent of an amateurish TV movie of the week, but with big name stars. Do yourself a favor, fold and sit this one out. Grade: 3/10
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