After watching the trailer for Runner Runner, you go in expecting an intelligent, exciting crime thriller packed with an A-list cast, drama, plenty of danger and a smidgen of violence. But the film turns out to be a bland disappointment.
Richie Furst (Justin Timberlake) is a Princeton student with moderate financial worries, who supports himself through online gambling. When he risks everything (except the price of his airline ticket to Costa Rica) on a game, and loses, he discovers he has been swindled and heads south to confront Ivan Block (Ben Affleck), the man behind the online gaming company and scam. Block is so impressed with Furst’s daredevil attitude that he offers him a job with eight-figure returns.
With the chance to rub shoulders with the super rich, all the pleasures it encompasses and, predictably, a beautiful woman, Rebecca (Gemma Arterton), who equally predictably is Block’s girlfriend, Furst’s life couldn’t be any better. Until FBI Agent Shavers (Anthony Mackie) interferes and chaos ensues.
Despite all the ingredients of a racy thriller, the film just doesn’t work. The characters are half-written shadows of people who we don’t care about. There is no depth, detail or intrigue to inspire us to invest our attention. The viewer is tempted to second guess the plot and look for the twists and double crosses lurking in the background, but it turns out that there are none to speak of.
Justin Timberlake was excellent in The Social Network, but has failed to shine in anything since. He’s not bad in this movie, but it’s not a performance that could pass as anything better than serviceable.
Ben Affleck has made three great films (Gone Baby Gone, The Town and Argo) in the last few years, all of them starring and directed by the man himself. It’s rather puzzling, therefore, to understand what Affleck saw in Brian Koppelman and David Levien’s script or in director Brad Furman to commit to star in Runner Runner that arguably adds little to the credentials.
On the other hand, there are times when Gemma Arterton forgets to act (and can’t pronounce Antigua) and is reduced to the token female accessory. She does not get to do much, and lacks chemistry with any of the men she is supposed to be in liaison with. Anthony Mackie, as the FBI agent, is too over-the-top to be convincing.
The story was too familiar to be exciting. The relationship of Justin and Ben (and Gemma, for that matter) were too dry to be engaging. The gambling jargon was hard to follow for non-gamblers and the ending is too obvious to be worth the time spent watching.
Runner Runner is no more than yet another cautionary tale about a young, ambitious up-and-comer who gets way over his head when he is lured into a world of crime and corruption by a smooth-talking, charismatic criminal.
Overall, it isn’t a bad film but just a bland, boring, and forgettable — a dull thud with no echo.
Published in The Express Tribune, Sunday Magazine, October 20th, 2013.