Ben Affleck 2.0 may be a serious force in Hollywood right now, but there was a time (actually just a couple weeks ago) when he took a lot of flak for films like Daredevil and Gigli. In all honestly though, he actually just did the best he could with what he had to work with (Okay, maybe not Gigli, that film is beyond redemption).
Given the right cards though, Affleck is a power player on screen, which is why new gambling thriller Runner Runner is so doubly disappointing. Seems somebody forgot to take the jokers out of this deck.
Playing against Affleck, in what the film’s trailers would have you believe is a high stakes game of cat and mouse, is Justin Timberlake in his latest attempt to convince us that he can do more than sing with the voice of a 10-year old girl. Now to be fair, Timberlake had previously proven in Social Network that he can be a fine enough actor, but Runner Runner is definitely not the film to show that he can take it to the next level. Brian Koppelman and David Levien’s script simply gives him even less to work with than Affleck, who as the film’s baddie, online gambling impresario Ivan Block, at least gets to chew some scenery like Hansel and Gretel at a witch’s candy-house.
Timberlake plays ex-Wall Street whizz kid turned Princeton grad student of indeterminate age, Richie Furst, who runs a sideline online gambling business to pay for college. When a turn of events has him bet and subsequently lose his entire life savings in an online poker game hosted on Block’s website, Richie does what he’s good at (so we’re told) and runs the numbers. Turns out that he had been cheated. Armed with unequivocal evidence of this ripoff and not a small amount of desperation, Richie heads off to Costa Rica, Block’s latest homebase.
As lucky plot devices would have it, Richie arrives on the same weekend as a huge online gambling conference, allowing him to sidle up to and state his case to Block, who is not only impressed by Richie’s tenacity but also the tact he showed in not going public with the fact that Block’s site has cheaters. In return, instead of just refunding Richie’s money, Block goes one better and offers him employment with a 7-figure salary and a chance to live the high life like only a stinking rich American in a third world country with lax laws and even laxer lawmen can. Hell, he doesn’t even mind so much when Richie gives his right-hand woman and one-time squeeze, Rebecca (Gemma Arterton, memorable only for how she fills out a cocktail dress), the googly eyes. I guess being a math geek pays off after all.
But what starts off as a dream job, soon turns ugly when sweaty FBI Agent Shavers (Anthony Mackie), who has a dubious obsession with Block, and a corrupt Costa Rican politician come knocking. Often on Richie’s face with their fists. And soon Richie finds himself a pawn in everybody’s game as he realizes that his new boss is actually more crooked than a dog’s hind leg (Pro-tip, Richie: No good guy in the history of good guys spends his time feeding whole chickens to his pet crocodiles at midnight) and that he needs to find a way out that doesn’t end with him being either locked away in a Costa Rican prison for life, or giving some large amphibious reptile indigestion.
Now I don’t mean to blow my own writing horn, but all of that sounds a hell of a lot more exciting than what it actually is. Director Brad “The Lincoln Lawyer” Furman directs with sloth-like energy levels for the most part, and when a swift kick in the pants is unavoidable, simply runs through a checklist of whatever action cinematography techniques have been popular lately. It’s all ho-hum stuff as characters talk and things happen, sometimes accompanied by a seizure-ridden camera, but you’d be hard pressed to care about them one way or the other.
Affleck threatens to drag the film into better territory, and Anthony Mackie seems to be having some fun in his role, but any hopes for this to escape the realm of mediocrity is firmly quashed when the film eventually gets to Richie’s Grand Plan To Get Out of Trouble – deserving of it’s all-Caps status due to how much it’s built up beforehand. Like in the poker games central to the film, there’s a whole lot of bluffing and posturing, but alas, the film then never gets past the flop – in every sense of the word – as the finale deals out such a ludicrously lacking payoff that it just ends up as unintentionally hilarious.
With just a fraction of Affleck’s A-game, a just watchable effort from Timberlake and Mackie, and a rather perfunctory turn from everybody else involved, I think the odds are pretty good that you’d be better off saving your money and not going all in on this one.
Last Updated: October 1, 2013