Film review: Best bet: Skip ‘Runner, Runner’

Film review: Best bet: Skip ‘Runner, Runner’
Online gambling tycoon Ivan Block (Ben Affleck) shows his protégé Richie Furst (Justin Timberlake) the ropes in “Runner, Runner.” Photo by Scott Garfield

With a name power-only cast and a less than acceptable story, “Runner, Runner” strands the audience in a boring game of chance that nobody wants to play.Princeton student Richie Furst (Justin Timberlake) gets cheated out of his tuition money by playing online poker. Upon learning that the site is hosted from Costa Rica, he flies down to confront the site’s owner, Ivan Block (Ben Affleck), but is persuaded into becoming Ivan’s second-in-command.

But just as their business relationship is getting good, Shavers (Anthony Mackie), an FBI agent, forces Richie to help him take down Ivan once and for all.

The advertisements describe “Runner, Runner” as a slick gambling thriller, but in reality, it’s a mess from which nobody walks away without getting cheated out of their money. While the soundtrack and the tropical locale have their uses, even they can’t save a movie this bad from becoming food for the crocodiles.

You’d think that after watching the seemingly polished previews that the actual movie would have a story of comparable quality; regrettably, “Runner, Runner” is devoid of it.

The narrative — if you can even call it one — consists of too many subplots that have little to no relation with each other. Had the focus concentrated solely on Timberlake and Affleck’s gambling enterprise instead of embellishing it with the obligatory FBI investigation and the superfluous drama surrounding Timberlake’s dad, the end result would’ve been a tighter film.

Same problem applies to the tone, as director Brad Furman can’t seem to make up his mind about what the film’s atmosphere should be: Is it dark and dangerous? How about glamorous and sexy?

As with any thriller that has failed to elicit fearful excitement from the audience, “Runner, Runner” has no real tension to speak of.

Nothing exciting happens, and any attempt to enliven the stakes between Timberlake and Affleck’s characters doesn’t generate the edge-of-your-seat feeling we’re supposed to experience.

Even Timberlake’s affair with Arterton is laced with boredom instead of intrigue.

By the way, this film contains a lot of vocabulary and concepts related to the world of gambling. Only the savviest of connoisseurs will understand whatever it is that Timberlake and Affleck are talking about — and I’m not one of them. If you ask me, the director might’ve gotten carried away and plastered all sorts of gambling jargon without considering whether or not the audience will catch on to what is happening in each scene.

But what really causes “Runner, Runner” to lose at its own game is the fact that the cast was all name power and nothing else. That probably explains the zero chemistry I detected between the actors from beginning to end.

Justin Timberlake is an uninspiring lead; not once does he convey the conflict his protagonist faces in a convincing manner, given he utters his dialogue with little to no real emotion. I’d hoped Ben Affleck would be the saving grace, and at first, he imbues Ivan with composed greed, but as the film progresses, he opts for Bond villain theatrics that don’t bode well for him, especially with regard to future projects where he’s not the director.

English beauty Gemma Arterton serves as the run-of-the-mill eye candy, spending most of her screen time looking mysterious and sexy while clad in dresses of varying colors and shapes. It’s kind of a shame that her femme fatale was wasted on a shoddy script. Anthony Mackie’s performance as the dogged FBI agent is so over the top you’d assume he was rehearsing a moment from “Bad Boys” or something.

Don’t place your bets on “Runner, Runner.” You want my advice? Save your money for a better casino game to take a shot at. Trust me — you’ll thank me later.

MPAA rating: R for language and some sexual content.
Running time: 1 hour and 31 minutes
Playing: In general release

 

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