Movie Review: ‘Runner Runner’


Plot: Richie Furst (Justin Timberlake) is a former Wall Street hotshot who lost his job and is now making his way through Princeton financial school. Desperate for tuition money, Furst uses his talent for numbers on an online poker site to pay for school. When Furst is cheated out of all of his money however, he makes the bold move to fly to Costa Rica and confront the website’s owner Ivan Block (Ben Affleck). Surprisingly, Block admires Furst’s guts and talent and offers him a job. The perks are appealing to Furst, not just the money, but Block’s ex-girlfriend Rebecca (Gemma Arterton). However, before long Furst finds himself dealing with the FBI, corrupt politicians, and his increasingly unstable boss. Someone’s life is about to fold. The question is who?

Review: In spite of the fact that Runner Runner comes care of the people who brought audiences the fantastic Rounders, the film proves to be a disappointing movie. Pedestrian, clichéd, and occasionally entertaining, Runner Runner is nothing more than a predictable thriller.

The strength of Rounders was in its characters. Mike, Worm, Teddy KGB, Knish; each had their own distinct traits and mannerisms that made them intriguing. With Runner Runner its like writers Brian Koppelman and David Levien completely forgot how to flesh out a character. Neither writer succeeds in making Richie a likable or relatable character. In point of fact, he’s a little off-putting in that he lures unsuspecting college students into gambling and is willing to give up a promising future in finance almost immediately, for a quick buck in Costa Rica. Even Koppelman and Levien’s weak attempts to evoke empathy for Richie through his relationship to his degenerate father Harry (John Heard) fall flat. Ivan Block meanwhile comes across as your typical rich tycoon, someone who is manipulative, arrogant, and believes he’s untouchable. Even FBI Agent Shavers (Anthony Mackie) plays the requisite law enforcement official looking to stick it to “The Man.”  Trust me when I saw we’ve seen this all before.

"Do you feel one dimensional?  I feel one dimensional."

“Do you feel one dimensional? I feel one dimensional.”

To their credit Timberlake and Affleck do well with what little they’re given. Timberlake conveys strength and ingenuity throughout Runner Runner. In some ways his performance makes Richie seem like a slightly lesser version of Ivan Block.  The implied subtext is that but for a few decisions, Richie could easily become like Block. Additionally, Timberlake’s tumultuous relationship with his father is believable if slightly contrived. Timberlake continues to improve with each film he’s in and although already a dynamo when it comes to comedy, he’s definitely branching out as a serious actor.

Runner Runner (2013) Justin Timberlake  (Screengrab)

The role of Ivan Block seems tailor-made for Ben Affleck. Affleck fits into the character of Block like a well-worn leather glove. He excels at conveying Block’s devious nature and arrogance. Affleck also delivers some fantastic one liners, one of the few saving graces of this film. Unfortunately, Affleck doesn’t do menacing very well and the few times Block’s actions required a certain amount of fury, Affleck couldn’t quite measure up. Historically though, Affleck has always had problems depicting true anger on-screen.  That’s something he’s going to have to work on before he dons the cape and cowl.

"That's right bitches I'm Batman!"

“That’s right bitches I’m Batman!”

As strong as Affleck and Timberlake were, Gemma Arterton and Anthony Mackie were equally bad. Arterton was so vanilla and forgettable as Richie’s love interest, that she might as well not have been in the film. I never bought the relationship between her and Timberlake. The chemistry was severely lacking. Meanwhile Mackie, who I usually love in most things, performs too stale and one note for my taste. Mackie plays Agent Shavers as the standard pissed off government official always, handing out threats and zingers in equal measure. There is zero nuance to Mackie’s performance.

"I'm just a pretty face."

“I’m just a pretty face.”

Speaking of nuance, Runner Runner as a whole possesses little. The biggest problem, as I’ve alluded to, is that it is predictable. The audience knows early on the exact way the plot is going to go down. It’s easier than connecting three dots to form a triangle. Eventually you find yourself waiting for the next item to check off your “Clichéd Thriller” list. And the “twist” at the end of the film? Let’s just say that if you don’t see it coming five minutes before it happens you probably can’t see the big “E” at the eye doctor’s office either.

There’s little entertainment to take away from this movie, which is a shame considering the writers and cast involved. Runner Runner? More like Bummer Bummer.

My rating:  4/10