Runner Runner Review
Posted by Terry Lewis on 10.05.2013
Bat Affleck plays a million playboy with a brooding dark side - No it's not Man Of Steel 2. It's high stakes online gambling thriller Runner Runner. But with Justin Timberlake leading the charge to the tables, is it a full house or a crap shoot? 411's own Terry Lewis investigates
Justin Timberlake - Ritchie Furst Ben Affleck - Ivan Block Gemma Arterton - Rebecca Shafran Anthony Mackie - Agent Shavers
With the recent announcement of Ben Affleck taking over the role of Batman, he’s going to be under the public eye a lot more with his actions and performances on the big screen. Looking to the dual role as Bruce Wayne, you’d be forgiven for seeing some similarities as the rich outcast playboy head of a multimillion dollar company he is in Runner Runner. Sadly, after viewing a plain jane of a film, we’re left waiting to find out more hint how Affleck will be.
Put upon Richie Furst, (Justin Timberlake, Trouble With The Curve) a former Wall Street worker now left destitute by the recession, is caught out by his Princeton college dean encouraging staff and students to gamble online. A big no-no and needing funds to pay off his masters degree, Richie gambles his earnings on online poker site Midnight Black, only to get caught out by a bug/cheat in the system and loses everything. He takes it upon himself to go to Costa Rica directly to confront the site’s owner Ivan Block (Affleck, Argo), who winds up offering him a job after seeing how intelligent he is. Richie forgets about his masters and focuses on his new paypacket and what the rich highlife of Costa Rica has to offer but doesn’t realise the forces conspiring around him.
I must admit this is my first experience with Timberlake as an actor and I don’t really understand why he keeps getting acting roles myself. Perhaps I’m being unfair since others say he does great work in roles like Curve but from the remit of his character, he’s doesn’t breathe life into Richie. Case in point, Richie apparently is clever to plot an escape from Block’s plans at the end, but he fails to realise how bloody evil he is throughout the film. It’s all part of Timberlake’s natural “deer in the headlights” look he has. In fact he became a bit of an instant hate figure for me as a completely whiney son of a bitch. He’s so stonking clever yet he can’t get a job elsewhere to earn his tuition money. Anywhere, doing anything – nope nothing at all. Timberlake’s youthful good looks add to a natural but annoying naivety but he’s like most of the youth today – he wants it all and he wants it now!
Like I said, I was interested to see how Affleck would slot into this rich playboy-esque as Ivan Block… Seriously, that’s taking the title of most preposterously named film character this year – I guess the writers didn’t want to give an American badguy an American name like Johnny Appleseed so gave him a completely random Eastern European name instead… In terms of fitting into that role, yeah I brought into it. What I didn’t much of was Affleck as a bad guy. It’s not that Affleck puts in a bad performance or doesn’t bother, it’s just he’s not given much to do apart from turn up, say some corporate evil lines and be a bit cartoonish with his evilry like kicking some goons into a crocodile infested river in the best/worst croc scene since Live And Let Die.
Same goes for his ridiculously beautiful assistant Shafran, played by Gemma Arterton (Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters). She doesn’t really have much to do and her amount of screentime indicates as much when she deserves so much better. The other cast member of note in a sea of fairly recognisable goons is Anthony Mackie (Gangster Squad) as a shouty annoying FBI agent who only quietens down at the very end. I’ve seen him do a lot better to be honest but I wouldn’t be too worried since Runner Runner won’t be brought up again anytime soon on this cast’s work history.
You’re left waiting for a debate on online gambling to rear it’s head and make it’s point – yet it never comes. Well the film never flat out says online gambling is wrong as it acknowledges it’s a multi billion dollar industry played all over the world but what’s so damn diddly wrong about it is the dodgy file stealing or whatever authorised by Block… okay I admit I gave up caring by this point about the mechanics. In fact the film probably did too. They should have just had a sign saying point to Block saying “Evil. OK?” I thought there was going to be a commentary about how the evils of online gambling but it’s relegated to the opening scene where Richie can’t get a Princeton tutor’s money back (it’s stated Richie just gives out free gaming chips to encourage people to go to Midnight Black and earns money from that) and that’s it really. The film then bases itself round the mechanics of an online gaming site which just shows off flashy technology just cause.
I must congratulate Runner Runner on it’s ability to make the usually flashy and sexy world of gambling boring. With the big money he earns, Block is able to put on lavish parties to impress clients and staff alike. I’m talking like a whole carnival with dancing troupes, probably imported from Moscow, in one corner with massive dance DJ Deadmau5 yet there’s an utter failure to acknowledge “Hey this is some really cool shit here!” and the film takes itself for granted. It’s almost the reverse of wish fulfilment media like Entourage where Vinnie Chase acknowledges his dream lifestyle but knows he has to work for it. Here it’s like the world of Runner Runner doesn’t recognise it has access to this really amazing world and hasn’t had to work for it.
I suppose there’s a theme of corruption floating around with Richie being seduced by the highly glamorous rich lifestyle and ditching his degree at a flick of a switch. No real moral debate, he just goes ahead with it. After finding Block’s bug and wanting to avoid bad rumours, Richie has his winnings paid back and a little extra to pay off his tuition. Now there from what we’ve seen of Richie, job done. Mission accomplished. Go get your masters son. But from some set up from his dad being a low life bum after becoming a gambling addict… well he just goes for it anyway. Why not offer to come back later on? Surely a degree is one thing. It’s never even said by Block it’s a on the spot decision either.
Anyway, it’s there and Richie engages in a bit of the Costa Rican lifestyle which isn’t anything amazing. To be honest, it leaves the power corrupts argument a bit flat since Richie is corrupted… and then proceeds to do bugger all with it. The most laughable bit in the entire film is when some client they want to hire for Midnight Black for his player list who states “oh I can’t be too long, my wife is due to give birth” is caught videotaped by Richie and Block having a threesome and indulging on Block’s private yacht – just cause. Not only is the guy’s breakdown utterly silly because he’s “easily corrupted” but Richie FAILS to see he’s doing anything wrong by this. So stupid.
What’s annoying is that there’s no real negatives. No one or any aspect of Runner Runner is downright terrible. It’s just all handled so wrong. I won’t doubt Timberlake is a better actor in another film but his character is so atrociously mispread he can’t help but be pulled down with it. The attractive foreign shores of Costa Rica are made to appeal like a week’s break in Anchorage… in the winter. It struggles to spit out it’s point. Overall it feels like an unintentional waste of everyone’s time in production and cast and as a viewer you'll feel like the "I'm not angry, just disappointed" parent.
The 411: The 411 – There’s nothing inherently wrong with Runner Runner. It just does not make an attempt to do anything amazing with it’s remit. A below standard Timberlake is not going to support a floundering Affleck and Arterton, in a poorly unglammed up Costa Rica. It succeeds in making the world of online gambling somewhat safe and nearly boring. In fact, a one word flavour review is this – Vanilla.