Published Oct 03, 2013A boon of scheduling must have taken place to secure the involvement of appropriately-rated-actor-turn-overrated-director Ben Affleck (Phantoms), workaholic multi-media personality Justin Timberlake (Southland Tales) and consistently impressive rising star Gemma Arterton (Byzantium). Other than an easy and convenient payday, the appeal of this semi-serviceable financial thriller is as nebulous as protagonist Richie Furst's talk of probability margins and other mealy mouthed vurps of gambling jargon.
Tackling the corrupt world of online gambling, Runner Runner is to Wall Street what The Skulls is to Eyes Wide Shut: a lightweight, self-satisfied, superficial reading of the junior version of an insidious issue populated with caricatures instead of characters. Timberlake stars as Richie Furst, a greedy Princeton student with a talent for gambling, an addiction that runs in the family — his father is a deadbeat wastrel in deep with bookies across the country. Because people like him are too entitled to live within their means or work hard to increase their fortunes modestly, Richie returns to the world of digital betting to score enough dough to pay off his entire tuition in one night's worth of effort.
When he loses his entire nut, the prideful manipulator can't believe he was beaten honestly and sets his hacker buddy to the task of investigating the users that made off with his money. With proof that he was cheated in hand, Furst makes the ballsy play of flying to Costa Rica to confront the kingpin of international online gambling, Ivan Block (Affleck). It's not too difficult to see where everything is headed: smarmy players playing each other, with a side of preaching about how wrong it is to take advantage of short-sighted, sick people with poor impulse control. Evolution wouldn't put up with gambling addicts — only through inane social coddling could such imbecilic, unsustainable behaviour be passed on.
However, Brad Furman (The Lincoln Lawyer) is convinced audiences will care about the fortunes of people discontent with anything other than the easy accumulation of excessive wealth. At no point does the film critique this perfunctory pursuit of opulence, chastising one player while celebrating another for being a superior gamesman. Granted, Block's superficial, nonchalant indifference to the glamorous lifestyle he's built for himself, dismissing his achievements as "everything I thought I wanted at 14," speaks directly to the immaturity of materialism for the sake of, but that on-the-nose sentiment doesn't preclude the further celebration of financial one-upmanship.
On the performance front, Gemma Arterton is disappointingly given little to do other than act as arm candy, while Timberlake performs adequately in an undemanding role and, while he doesn't fully Cage-out, Affleck nips at the scenery with a playful yet somewhat bored gusto that makes it clear just how little this project means to his overall career. Moving to the technical side, Furman displays a basic understanding of why and when to use certain elements of cinematic language, though he goes overboard with shaky handheld shots during a few scenes late in the film.
Proficient as it is, Runner Runner is far too generic and forgettable to expect any kind of longevity, theatrically or on home video. This one is not going the distance. (Fox)