Craig's First Take: "Runner Runner"

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When a poor college student who cracks an online poker game goes bust, he arranges a face-to-face with the man he thinks cheated him, a sly offshore entrepreneur.
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Even the most infrequent degenerate gambler such as myself will tell you gambling is all about the action, the rush you feel from it. We can expect none of that from “Runner Runner”, written by the guys who wrote the far superior 1998 gambling film “Rounders” and directed by Brad Furman, whose last film was the fantastic “Lincoln Lawyer’. “Runner Runner” doesn’t even feel like a movie, it’s like these guys got together and crafted this as a scheme to get a paid vacation in Latin America.

Justin Timberlake plays Richie, a former Wall Street hot shot who lost everything and then ended up studying finance at Princeton. He’s paying his way through by being an affiliate for online gaming, a fancy way of saying online bookie. Richie really believes in fairness, so much so that when he figures out he’s been hustled by another online site, he spends what little money he has left on a plane ticket to Costa Rica to call site owner Ivan Block (Ben Affleck) a cheater. Instead, Block offers a job.

 

Lacking any and all suspense, Brian Koppelman and David Levien’s screenplay makes such simplistic points as “money is nice” and “the people behind gambling didn’t get there by being honest”. We’re told Ivan is corrupt but the movie never takes us behind the curtain to see the depths of that. Instead it’s all clichés, like the inevitable pitting of Richie between Block and the equally corrupt FBI and Richie having to save his gambling addict father (John Heard), and numerous card-playing metaphors.

 

To use one of my own, Timberlake’s gotta stop betting on mediocre scripts. He’s charismatic and conveys in Richie a keen observer of the business of gambling, except the movie does a terrible job of explaining what Richie’s talent is. Affleck hardly seems like an Ivan and this is another role that makes it hard to care about him as an actor. And Gemma Arterton is also in the film. She’s forgotten whenever not on screen and romantic chemistry between her and Timberlake is forgotten when she is.

 

In a way it almost feels like any scenes of substance were cut in order to make it a leaner, 90 minute movie of clichés. There are so many better movies out there about financial crime, internet crime and so on, movies that have something to say about their topics. Why waste time on a pretender?