Runner Runner (2013)
91 min., rated R.
"Runner Runner" looks like the kind of slick, steamy, trashy thriller that should induce heatstroke. Justin Timberlake is cast as the attractive patsy. Ben Affleck and Gemma Arterton both look as if they've been dipped in bronzer. There should be an entertaining and informative movie to be made about the dangers of online gambling, but "Runner Runner" is not it. It didn't even have to teach newbies the rules of poker, but instead settles for boring and by-the-numbers. It's even said to be allegedly "based on true events," but if that's accurate, then these events have been played out to death already. We've seen this clone of a story countless times before—a hotshot becomes the protege of a shady teacher who invites him into a world of luxury—and director Brad Furman (2011's solid "The Lincoln Lawyer") doesn't bring much more than eye-candy that could be found online anyway.
Richie Furst (Timberlake) is a cocksure Princeton graduate student who, after his Wall Street career doesn't work out, starts an online gambling business that catches up with him and gets him in trouble with the university dean. If he doesn't change his tune, he'll be forbidden from campus. Richie owes $21,000 in tuition, so when he (foolishly) bets it all, he's cheated. With nothing left to lose, he flies to San Jose, Costa Rica, to directly approach gambling kingpin Ivan Block (Affleck), but Richie actually gets in with Block and, get this, gets way more than he bargains for with the boss' dirty dealings. Don't expect the unexpected.
Timberlake keeps trying to prove himself a strong actor, and while he impressed with supporting roles in "Alpha Dog" and "The Social Network" and showed charisma in "Friends with Benefits," he's too much of a bland, lightweight non-entity here. He should be given the benefit of the doubt that when not given mediocre material or asked to carry a movie, he's fine. Even before living the high life, Richie is more of a smug punk than a protagonist we're able to care about, and it's hard to buy the boyish Timberlake outsmarting Affleck's Ivan. When he gets into Ivan's big island bash, why does he even bother attracting suspicion in front of the cameras instead of going straight up to Ivan since that's what ends up happening anyway? It's also a sad state of affairs when Timberlake has to be saddled with such wooden voice-over narration. "This isn't poker. This is my life, and I have one play left. Push all my chips in and hope to get lucky." Ugh. Really? Apparently having lost a bet after his directorial comebacks with "The Town" and "Argo," a tanned Affleck still has the only spark. As Ivan Block, he makes a juicy bad guy, having oily charm to spare and gorging on some scenery, but never given the chance to be truly chilling. Though she receives second billing, the glamorous and talented Gemma Arterton is made to be nothing more than shiny window dressing in a good-for-nothing femme-fatale part as Ivan's promoter and arm candy, Rebecca. Lastly, Anthony Mackie has even less to do but lends some personality to his scenes as FBI Agent Shavers, who wants Richie's help to capture Ivan.
Glossy, light-headed, and a complete waste of an R-rating, "Runner Runner" largely suffers from lethargic pacing and a predictable, uninspired script by Brian Koppelman & Davis Levien (who covered the tables better in 1998's "Rounders") that never crackles with tension nor tries bluffing its audience in building to a big reveal. The film isn't about its characters and it isn't about action, either. Aside from one brief scene involving chicken fat and crocodiles, it's 91 minutes of nothing. All the film has to offer is Affleck's hammily mannered performance, which can be fun to watch but isn't worth slogging through "Runner Runner." It's just another flashy, thoroughly forgettable, hopelessly unthrilling greed-thriller for the studio heap next to 2013's asinine "Paranoia."
Grade: C -