Runner Runner is the kind of mid-budget, unremarkable, inoffensive and largely predictable studio thriller that is tailor-made for a September release. It isn’t flashy enough to survive the summer season and certainly isn’t anywhere near good enough to have any awards prospects. From top to bottom, it’s a decidedly average affair.
Justin Timberlake stars as Richie Furst, a Princeton student and failed stockbroker who makes a living through online poker. When Richie is hustled out of his entire savings account, he smells a rat and decides to track down the owner of the site, shady online gaming tycoon Ivan Block (Ben Affleck).
Block is currently wanted by the FBI and exiled to Costa Rica where he runs his gaming empire. Well, he talks a lot about his business but never seems to actually be doing anything, other than throwing lavish parties or waxing lyrical about how jaded and homesick he’s become. Richie manages to track him down at one of these parties and lets Block know he’s been swindled. Why he thought it was worth going to Costa Rica just for that is anyone’s guess but nonetheless, Block is impressed and offers Richie a high-profile marketing job.
Richie is quickly seduced by the money, boats and women, taking a shine to Block’s right-hand-lady Rebecca, a thankless role for Gemma Arterton who gets nothing better to do than swan through parties caked in fake tan. Of course, with all these perks, there has to be a catch and Richie’s ethics are soon tested when he begins to discover the murky waters in which Block operates.
Timberlake is perfectly at home as the preppy whizz-kid, his performance here feeling like an extension of his supporting turn in The Social Network. Affleck, so often the leading man, is well cast as the smooth-talking manipulator, giving a solid supporting turn that’s actually very restrained given the circumstances. So often the wily veteran in this kind of story is played over the top – think Al Pacino in The Devil’s Advocate, the ideal example of OTT – but for better or worse, Affleck keeps it reigned in.
Director Brad Furman – whose last outing was slick legal thriller The Lincoln Lawyer, which kickstarted Matthew McConaughey’s recent renaissance – does a decent job behind the camera, though seems to have a penchant for deliriously shaky cam during any scene that’s supposed to be remotely exciting.
The biggest problem here is the script, from the screenwriting duo Brian Koppelman and David Levein who penned the superior poker flick Rounders back in the 90’s. It’s just too cliched and predictable at every turn, following in the footsteps of Wall Street and any number of other films of that ilk.
That’s not to say Runner Runner is a complete bust but it never really gets any further than ‘mildly diverting’, a humdrum, mid-level film that isn’t a bad way to spend 90 minutes but will almost certainly be completely forgotten about in a week’s time.