RUNNER, RUNNER: 0 STARS
“It’s the gambling business in Costa Rica,” says internet gaming mogul Ivan Block in “Runner, Runner,” “sometimes you get punched in the face.”
And sometimes moviegoers get slapped in the face by a really bad movie.
Justin Timberlake is Richie Furst, a Princeton student who works for an on line gambling site called Midnight Black. He earns a commission every time he signs up one of his fancy-pants classmates, but when the Dean’s Office discovers what he’s up to they call his bluff: Quit Midnight Black or quit Princeton.
He opts to stop recruiting for the site, but short on tuition money, pulls an all-nighter on line, hoping to earn enough to cover his expenses. Up $50,000 it looks like his plan is working until he is cheated out of his winnings and left with nothing.
Eager to confront the site’s main man Ivan Block (Ben Affleck) he travels to Costa Rica. Block, impressed with the young man’s spirit ups the ante, offering him a job. Soon Richie is Ivan’s protégé but with the position comes some wanted attention from Block’s ex-girlfriend Rebecca (Gemma Arterton) and unwanted attention from the FBI (Anthony Mackie).
“Runner, Runner” is a thriller without any thrills, a movie about cheating at gambling that feels like a cheat. It’s the kind of film where characters say things like, “Do you know how crazy this is?” to remind the audience that what they’re watching is interesting. Or, at least, is supposed to be.
From stilted narration and dialogue—“This isn’t poker,” sez Richie, “this is my life and I have one play left. Put all the chips in!”—to characters with all the depth of a lunch tray to a by-the-numbers story, “Runner, Runner” is one of the worst movies to escape… er… get released this year.
It could have been something. Director Brad Furman’s last film, “The Lincoln Lawyer,” was an elegant thriller with interesting performances and some tension, none of which is present in his latest film.
It’s too bad, because the components are all there, they are simply let down by a derivative script by Brian Koppelman & David Levien that is unconcerned with logic, realism or creating interesting characters.
It’s too bad because the actors struggle to bring something to the table, but for someone who drips charisma onstage J.T. is bland as rice pudding here and Arterton is given little to do but bat her eyelashes.
Affleck seems to be having fun as the villain—he even has man eating reptiles!—and has the prerequisite steely-eyed glare down pat but he’s not exactly menacing. He underplays the part and yet because his dialogue is so overwritten he actually adds some unintentional humor to a movie that takes itself too seriously.
“Runner, Runner” is a slickly made but dull movie.
My advice? Runner, runner in the other direction.