Twitter Plot Summary: Timberlake loses his tuition fees gambling online. He goes to Costa Rica to get it back.
Director: Brad Furman
Key Cast: Justin Timberlake, Ben Affleck, Gemma Arterton, Anthony Mackie, Michael Esper, Oliver Cooper, John Heard, Louis Lombardi, Christian George, Yul Vazquez, James Molina, David Costabile.
Five Point Summary:
1. Hey look, it’s the chap from Flight of the Conchords and Breaking Bad!
2. Oh, it’s going down a completely different route than expected. It’s playing it safe…
3. Crocodiles. Why’d it have to be crocodiles?!
4. Getting a bit bored now. Who watches the watchmen and all that.
5. Ahh, the ending everybody was expecting. Of course.
It gets off to a good start. Timberlake plays Richie Furst, a promising student at Princeton who is quite the gambler in his spare time. After attempting to gamble for his tuition fees and losing, he works out that he was cheated and heads down to Costa Rica where gambling website owner Ivan Block (Affleck) is based. Offered a job, he sees the seedy underbelly of the business and has to deal with corrupt locals and angry police officers (led by Anthony Mackie) who are trying to take Block down.
There’s a lot of good vibes about this setup. A thriller that delves into the modern world of online gambling, the effects it has on those involved in it, and the behind the scenes drama that no doubt is a real world concern. And then… it plays safe. There’s very little in thrills, very little in drama. In fact, very little of anything of note. The story meanders forward without purpose, and all the promise from the trailer – that of a desperate student needing a ridiculous amount of money to pay for his tuition fees – is lost amidst a sub-par thriller story that wouldn’t have been out of place in the 80s, with probably John Claude Van Damme or Sylvester Stallone or similar in the Timberlake role, and someone like Eric Roberts as Ivan Block.
Affleck is clearly phoning his performance in – after some relatively intensive work in the last 12 months and reaching Oscar nod territory with the likes of Argo, Affleck’s appearance here is a slightly bigger budget equivalent (and then some) of Eric Roberts agreeing to do Sharktopus. It’s an excuse to go on holiday to a nice location for a couple of weeks, learn a few lines and get paid for doing it. Easy work if you can get it. Anthony Mackie too has little weight in his role as Agent Shavers, a cop who’s only tactic appears to be threatening his potential moles with jail time if they don’t co-operate. Oh, and looking sweaty, like a budget version of The Rock in Fast Five. Timberlake by comparison does well with the material, but I don’t think he’s big enough or has sufficiently deep acting chops to carry the film on his own.
Gemma Arterton also appears, but she’s woefully underserved by the script. Her role is literally to help Timberlake get out of the business and that’s it, there’s no depth to her at all. Anybody else could have played the character, it wouldn’t have made any difference. Heck, even a pine wardrobe could’ve done the same job, such is the extent of her character’s usefulness.
It’s a shame Runner Runner wasn’t any better. It had potential to be a modern update of the tired old thriller template, yet serves up every cliche in the book and then some. As thrillers go there’s no depth to it – all surface glitz and glamour, nothing substantial. One day there may be a thriller that does justice to this concept – Runner Runner sadly isn’t it.
Favourite scene: Furst is sent to pay off the local gambling commission, and is given a beating for his troubles.
Quote: “Why the House?’ “Cuz the house always wins.” GROOOOOANNN…
Silly Moment: The Bond villain style of using crocodiles for nefarious purposes.