In Runner Runner, Justin Timberlake plays Richie Furst, a likable grad student from New Jersey who uses the world of internet gambling as a means to pay his way through school. He gets caught by the dean and is told that he has to cease all campus gambling activity and pay for all of his tuition or face the greater threat of not graduating. Sent into a desperate dash for money, Richie turns to what he knows best, internet gambling. He bets big, goes for the brass ring, but, ultimately, loses all of his money. Something isn’t right, though. Through a review of the math behind what happened during his losing streak, he determines that he was cheated by the website. Being a man of action, Richie gets extensions on his final exams and makes it out to Costa Rica to confront the proprietor of said website, Ivan Block (Ben Affleck), face to face over his apparent swindling. Block takes a shine to Richie and offers him a position in his gambling empire with the trappings of prestige, excitement and wealth, which Richie accepts. At first, Richie thinks that he’s living the life of his dreams; he learns the ins and the outs of the internet gambling world, he gains wealth and he ingratiates himself further into the Block family. Things, however, turn out to be different from what they seem and this utopian dream turns quickly into a nightmare. Instead of money, Richie realizes that he is gambling with his life. Does he have what it takes to escape with the prize of freedom?
Justin Timberlake is endearing in the role of Richie, the humble young gambler navigating the ups and downs of the game. Conversely, Affleck does well as the villainous Ivan Block, seemingly congenial at first, but eventually losing the smiling facade to reveal his true, sinister nature. Gemme Arterton is beautiful as Rebecca Shafran, Block’s partner and Furst’s object of desire.
Supposedly based on a true series of events, Runner Runner has all of the earmarks of being a successful noir-esque gambling/gangster flick. Slick cinematography and a hot cast do little, however, to cover up the fact that the overall premise of the movie is, at best, warmed over and predictable. Ultimately, the talent and potential of this movie are wasted on poorly written dialogue and paper-thin plot twists. Outside of the main lead roles, most of the ancillary characters seem stiff and disingenuous, most laughably visible is Anthony Mackie’s role of Agent Shavers, the tough gumshoe federal agent who plays by his own rules to get his man. He delivers a lot of the “ALL YOU HAVE TO DO IS COOPERATE WITH THE FEDS AND EVERYTHING WILL BE OKAY,” type trope to Timberlake and it’s not very convincing.
Overall, the movie lacks the genuine sincerity that memorable movies are made of. Far fetched plot lines and half hearted writing fail to give the big name actors the foundation on which to build a convincing drama. Best to wait for that rainy night rental when you’ve seen everything else.
Runner Runner opens today in Philly area theaters.