Formulaic Runner Runner Isn’t Worth Betting On
- Friday, October 04, 2013
Release Date: October 4, 2013
Rating: R (language, some sexual content)
Run Time: 91 min.
Director: Brad Furman
Actors: Ben Affleck, Justin Timberlake, Gemma Arterton, Anthony Mackie, Michael Esper, John Heard
After a string of flops so wretched (Gigli, Surviving Christmas and that embarrassing cameo in J. Lo’s “Jenny From the Block” video, anyone?) that early retirement seemed inevitable, Ben Affleck (Argo) has garnered plenty of goodwill in his career’s second act. Not only has Affleck shown considerable range as a director and won the Oscar for Best Picture to prove it, but he’s made far smarter choices about what to star in, too. But for all the forward progress he’s made in the past few years, Runner Runner is one giant leap back. Not only does the film suffer from a script so leaden and laughable that anything on Lifetime seems more sophisticated in comparison, but Affleck is also horribly miscast as the film’s resident baddie.
As Ivan Block, the dastardly C.E.O. of a wildly successful online gambling ring in Costa Rica, Affleck is never believable. For whatever reason, no one thought of roughing up his camera-friendly face or changing his vocal mannerisms so he wouldn’t sound so, well, affable and Affleck-y. If anything, he winds up looking like he’s shown up for another project altogether, which is probably why all the threats he makes come across as pretty empty. Surprisingly enough, it’s Justin Timberlake (In Time) who brings his A-game to this otherwise lackluster affair as Richie Furst. After crashing out of Wall Street in spectacular fashion when the stock market went belly-up, he’s now working on his Master’s degree at Princeton.
But since Ivy League educations are expensive and Richie is short on cash, he has devised a get-rich-scheme that’s paying serious dividends. Not surprisingly, recruiting fellow students for online poker isn’t exactly cool with the university higher-ups, but Richie doesn’t let the potential of getting kicked out of Princeton deter him. Pouring the remainder of his savings into the game, he’s astounded by the result. After a few quick calculations, Ritchie realizes his suspicions were true—he was being cheated. But rather than taking his concerns to customer service or warning others about the scam on online message boards, he decides he has nothing to lose by taking it up with Ivan himself.
Of course when a man is as a powerful as Ivan supposedly is, he’s not exactly easy to get to. So Richie somehow scrounges up enough money for a plane ticket to Costa Rica to confront him in person. And for the record, this is precisely when Runner Runner descends into full-on wackadoodle territory. Sure, concessions of logic are often made when filmmakers are concocting thrills for a thriller, but suspending one’s disbelief about what happens next is way too much ask anyone with a working brain. For instance, are we really supposed to believe that a guy who was successful on Wall Street and smart enough to get into an Ivy League school would accept a job from the very man who robbed him and so many others? Wouldn’t he have just accepted Ivan’s repayment with interest and high-tailed it back to the United States?
Well, there wouldn’t be a movie in that story, naturally, so as fast as Ivan applauds his moxie and promises a seven or eight figure-salary in only three years’ time, Ritchie has signed on for the adventure of his life. Or so he thought… In the grand tradition of far better films including Wall Street, The Firm and even 21, the mentor may say his newfound disciple “reminds him a little bit of himself” but he’s also not afraid to let him be the “fall guy” when it serves his best interest. True to form, that’s exactly what happens to Ritchie when his job duties leave him in harm’s way again and again.
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