The Movie Waffler New Release Review - Runner Runner | The Movie Waffler

New Release Review - Runner Runner

A struggling Princeton student is caught up in the world of online gambling.

Directed by: Brad Furman
Starring: Ben Affleck, Justin Timberlake, Gemma Arterton, Anthony Mackie

Richie (Timberlake) is paying his way through Princeton University by working as an affiliate for Midnight Black, a successful online gambling site. He receives a commission for signing up his fellow students but when the father of one student complains to the college Dean, Richie is told he must quit working for the site or he is no longer welcome at Princeton. Desperate for cash to pay his tuition, Richie pulls an all-nighter playing poker on Midnight Black. After amassing over $50,000, almost enough to cover his fees, Richie is suddenly cheated out of his winnings. He heads to Costa Rica, where the site operates from, and confronts Ivan Block (Affleck), head of the online empire. Impressed by Richie's knowledge, Block hires the student and Richie soons finds himself in over his head, with the FBI and local mobsters showing an unwanted interest in his new career.
Having missed its press screening, I caught 'Runner Runner' on its opening day and was instantly reminded why I hate public screenings. Seated two rows ahead and to my right was an idiot with a smartphone, or should that be "idiotphone", the light from which could have been used by a Gestapo officer to interrogate a suspected member of the French Resistance. I waited patiently through the commercials and trailers but when the offender showed no signs of putting the device away, I was forced to shout a warning across the rows. To my pleasant surprise, the light was immediately turned off (usually they either ignore me or begrudgingly comply, comparing me to a piece of male anatomy under their breath) and I relaxed into my seat. Halfway through Brad Furman's "thriller" I was beginning to regret taking such a stern stance, as a beam of light in the corner of my eye would have provided a welcome distraction from the inanity onscreen.
Those irate about Affleck's casting in 'Superman & Batman's High School Reunion', or whatever it's to be called, won't be reassured by his performance here, as the actor seems to be in some kind of hypnotic trance. To be fair, only someone under the influence of a hypnotist could have read this script and agreed to any further involvement. Arterton seems genuinely disinterested throughout, like a pretty girl desperate to escape from a disastrous blind date. The only person making any effort is Timberlake, but his usual boundless enthusiasm here resembles a family member cracking jokes at a funeral to lighten the mood; nobody's appreciating it.
The script makes the plot seem a lot more complicated than it actually is and I couldn't help wonder if an earlier draft didn't feature a homoerotic sub-plot between Affleck and Timberlake, as there are several moments where Affleck looks on with jealousy as Timberlake romances Arterton, but it's never made exactly clear who he's jealous of. Had this been explored further it would have at least provided the ounce of originality this film badly requires.

Eric Hillis