Even the title is bad. ‘Runner Runner’ might have looked good on paper, especially when director Brad Furman (‘The Lincoln Lawyer‘) hired Ben Affleck, Justin Timberlake and Gemma Arterton to star in this online gambling thriller. Unfortunately, even at just 90 minutes, it’s 90 very long minutes of laughable, cheesy dialogue, zero notable characters, and virtually no suspense, with the exception of a short scene with crocodiles. The setup is decent enough, but the movie is poorly executed on all levels.
In a ‘Social Network’-like set-up, we meet Princeton student Richie Furst (Timberlake), who’s been threatened with expulsion unless he shuts down his online gambling business. Richie is smart, charismatic and driven to win. In order to pay for his tuition, he bets his life savings on an online poker tournament. He loses, but he and a fellow engineer figure out that he was cheated. The man responsible is Ivan Black (Affleck), the kingpin of online gambling, and he resides in Costa Rica.
Even though Richie is supposedly penniless now, he still can afford a plane ticket to Costa Rica with the hopes of running into Ivan and exposing him. We’re told that Ivan is extremely difficult to get to. (He’s described as Oz, the man behind the curtain.) Well, luckily, Richie is Justin Timberlake, and it only takes him a few hours to get face to face with Ivan. When Richie confronts him about his shady site, Ivan invites him onto his huge yacht and offers to pay him what he lost, even to pay for the rest of his tuition. He also tempts Richie with a job that could earn a potential eight figures in the first year or two. The dialogue here sounds very similar to lines Affleck previously delivered in ‘Boiler Room’.
Richie accepts the offer and stays in Costa Rica, but later is picked up by an FBI agent named Shavers (Anthony Mackie), who informs Richie about Ivan’s criminal history. From here, Richie starts to figure out how truly unscrupulous and dangerous Ivan is, as if the backdoor dealings, blackmailing clients, and even torturing people weren’t enough clues. Richie must try to escape with the help of Ivan’s right-hand-woman (Arterton), who seems to be playing both sides.
‘Runner Runner’ suffers from a slow pace and lack of suspense, which is bad news for a movie promoted as a high-octane thriller with fast cars, fast boats and bad guys. While, yes, it has all of that, at no point do we feel worried for the characters. Every actor might as well wear a blank mask, because no emotion pours out of them, aside from the rare instance when someone yells at someone else. Timberlake and Affleck are likable on screen, but suspenseful thrillers are not Timberlake’s strong suit, Affleck seems to be coasting on his Oscar win, and Arterton is only here to look pretty.
This film is better left to view on TV once it comes out on cable for free. Even then, you may want your hour-and-a-half back.