By Gary Murray
Starring Justin Timberlake, Ben Affleck and Gemma Arterton
Written by Brian Koppelman and David Levien
Directed by Brad Furman
Running time 91 min
MPAA Rating R
Selig Film Rating Cable
Justin Timberlake has gone from Disney kid to one of the most lauded performers of his generation. He can sing, dance and act. He’s a triple threat artist that is worldwide demand by just about everybody in entertainment. Some of his films have been Bad Teacher, The Social Network and Trouble with the Curve. His latest is Runner Runner.
The tale starts in Princeton with graduate student Richie Furst (Justin Timberlake). He lost all his money on Wall Street and is back in college, working a gambling scam on the side. The dean is not happy with his activities and makes threats to expel him.
Richie needs a bunch of cash to pay for tuition so he goes to an on-line gambling site called Midnight Black. Since he’s a computer geek and stats guy, he knows the odds on cards. Well, he soon loses all his money. He also discovers that his losing is as statistically probable as winning the lottery four times. Richie knows he’s been had but believes that “Everybody gets a fair shot” and abhors fixed games.
So, he decides to go down to Costa Rica to confront the owner of Midnight Black, Ivan Block (Ben Affleck). Ivan is eventually impressed by Richie’s intellect and offers him a job. Soon, Richie is in over his head, swimming in a sea of high-stakes gambling and sexy women.
Rebecca (Gemma Arterton) works at the company. She seems to have a relationship with Ivan but shows interest in Richie. It becomes part of the relationship triangle of the plot. An FBI agent (Anthony Mackie) captures Richie and tells the young man that his boss is a very dangerous and wanted man. He tries to convince Richie to turn state’s evidence.
The story of Runner Runner is the eye opening of Richie to a world past academia. He finds that he is so far down the rabbit hole that he may not be able to get out unscathed. The film twists and turns between high-stakes romance and high-stakes crime. It ends up being a bit of a high-stakes mess.
Director Brad Furman is not sure exactly what kind of movie he wanted to make. The screenplay is all over the place without any focus. By going to the left, then to the right, then back to the left leaves the audience much more seasick than being on Ivan’s boat.
This is not the best work of Justine Timberlake. The actor is just of his element with the material. It is hard to believe that he’s a brilliant grad student and harder to believe that he’s a brilliant high-stakes player. Justine is better off with the romantic elements of the screenplay than the gritty elements.
Gemma Arterton first gained notice in a ‘blink and you miss it’ role in the Quantum of Solace as agent Strawberry Fields. Here, she is given more lines but not much more to do other than look pretty. She is matched well with Timberlake and they do seem to have chemistry but it is basically for naught. She becomes eye-candy and not much more.
But, it is surprising how good of a bad guy Ben Affleck is in Runner Runner. One believes the charming snake who dangles wealth and power to the unsuspecting. He gives a reading that is both intense and creepy, within the same moments.
Runner Runner is a decent watch but nothing to rush out to see. It is going to be one of those films that, in a year, plays over and over on cable television. It is nothing more than a diversion.