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Formulaic Runner Runner Isn’t Worth Betting On

  • Christa Banister Crosswalk.com Contributing Writer
  • 2013 10 Oct
  • COMMENTS
Formulaic <i>Runner Runner</i> Isn’t Worth Betting On

DVD Release Date: January 7, 2014
Theatrical Release Date: October 4, 2013
Rating: R (language, some sexual content)
Genre: Crime/Thriller
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.

While Timberlake won’t be nominated for an Oscar anytime soon, he does an admirable job with a role that’s so thinly drawn. Aside from that, however, the best thing that can be said for this lame cautionary tale on how “crime doesn’t pay” is that it doesn’t drag on and on with unnecessary side plots. Underscoring the filmmaker’s brazen lack of ambition, Runner Runner coasts by with sloppy editing, chintzy cinematography and a basic disregard for good dialogue and character development—something you’d think a veteran actor like Affleck would’ve known to pass on by now.

CAUTIONS:

  • Drugs/Alcohol: Social drinking. Illegal drugs are planted in Richie’s suitcase.
  • Language/Profanity: Multiple uses of the f-word, sh--, as- and a couple of misuses of God’s name.
  • Sex/Nudity: Crass references to female anatomy. It’s implied that Richie and Rebecca sleep together (no nudity, just kissing is shown). In order to secure an important client, Ritchie is encouraged by his boss to  make sure a married man with a weakness for beautiful woman stumbles by setting him up on a private boat with many tempting options. Later on, we learn the shenanigans were filmed, and Ritchie shows the guy the video of him having sex with two women (there’s quick flashes of the women’s bare breasts and some pretty explicit sexual movements). Several law enforcement officials are shown with a bevy of women in skimpy lingerie (lots of close-ups of cleavage and women sitting in suggestive positions).
  • Violence: Ritchie is beat up on several occasions, almost thrown off a building and threatened with a gun. As punishment for not complying with Ivan’s instructions, two men are dunked in chicken fat and thrown into a river filled with hungry alligators.

*This Review Published 10/4/2013