I feel like gambling movies are a dying breed. Don’t you agree? There’s only so much you can do with a gambling-themed movie because the concept hasn’t changed in the last 15 years. And that’s kind of how Runner, Runner feels. Like it’s just a copied concept rehashing all of the same characters and plots you’ve already seen. But more on that in a moment…
Here’s how Rotten Tomatoes describes the plot: “Richie Furst (Justin Timberlake), a Princeton college student who pays for school with online gambling, bottoms out and travels to Costa Rica to confront the online mastermind, Ivan Block (Ben Affleck), whom he believes has swindled him. Ivan sees a kindred spirit in Richie and brings the younger man into his operation. When the stakes get incredibly high and dangerous, and Richie comes to fully understand the deviousness of his new boss, he tries to turn the tables on him.”
If you want to listen to me make jokes at Justin Timberlake’s expense and talk about panties, here’s a link to the Runner, Runner review on this morning’s “Pat & JT in the Morning” (It starts around the 16:00 minute mark).
Did you ever see Rounders? Or 21? If you did, don’t even bother seeing this movie. It’s like the exact same movie. Just in a different setting with less awesome actors (Yes, Matt Damon, Edward Norton, Jim Sturgess, and Kevin Spacey are way cooler than Justin Timberlake and Ben Affleck). Don’t believe me? Well, I can sum it up pretty quickly. Gifted Young Protagonist got screwed over and needs money. Mentor Antagonist can help Gifted Young Protagonist get money—that is, of course, if Gifted Young Protagonist doesn’t mind doing some illegal shit that will most likely get his ass kicked. And then there’s Only Female Character with Lines, whose breasts look fantastic. And let’s not forget Random Authority Figure, who helps Gifted Young Protagonist outwit Mentor Antagonist. I’m not kidding. These are the main characters and plots in Rounders, 21, and Runner, Runner. But while this is a ridiculously formulaic movie, the biggest disappointments are in the acting and the script.
Throughout the entire movie, the acting feels forced. Justin Timberlake’s narrations are more action-movie Jason Statham than they are serious-drama Edward Norton. It makes Timberlake sound like he’s taking himself so seriously that it’s almost campy. Also, Timberlake isn’t a sympathetic actor at all. Perhaps it’s the constant shit-eating look on his face that says “I’m making so much money right now,” so we end up seeing him as Justin Timberlake playing Justin Timberlake as Richie Furst instead of just being Richie Furst. To those wondering why his movie career hasn’t really taken off yet, it’s because of this. He should really stick to supporting roles.
On the other hand, Ben Affleck is the only actor in this movie worth watching. He’s so good as sleazy, gambling boss Ivan Block. In fact, I wish he’d play this type of character more often than the collected CIA agent, the rom-com guy, or Daredevil (because no one wants to see that ever again). He’s got that “I can smile at you and monologue about weird things while I try to kill you” thing that Christoph Waltz nails in every performance. It helps, too, that Affleck is a good writer (though he didn’t write for this movie, clearly) because it makes his line delivery and character development so much better, even though we know absolutely nothing about Ivan Block.
The other actors are jokes. The talents of Anthony Mackie, who plays Agent Shavers (the FBI guy trying to bust Block), are wasted in his lines, which are pretty much only yelled. John Heard plays Furst’s father, Harry, and he’s just there as emotional leverage. Gemma Arterton is amazingly gorgeous, and she was giving me some serious Rachel Weisz vibes as the organized, busy, know-it-all…uh, what was her name? Oh, Rebecca Shafran. Yeah, I had to look up her character’s name because she is literally useless in this movie other than being the T&A.
And then there’s the script. As I mentioned before, it’s completely unoriginal. On top of that, there’s weird consistency things that are just baffling to me as a writer. Like the transitions. How is it that Furst is completely broke when he gambles away his entire account, but then he can afford to fly from Princeton (which is in New Jersey, if you didn’t know) to Costa Rica? THAT’S EXPENSIVE. The writers didn’t even have him pulling out money from a pillowcase or anything being like, “Well, this is all I have left. Now, let’s go to Costa Rica.” Nope, he just up and went. Also, I’m pretty sure they never explained why Block was running an online gambling site (which was doing really well, obviously) AND a casino in Costa Rica. This seems like something we should know.
But the gambling-life metaphors are by far the worst. That’s just how the chips fall. Ugh. The house always wins. Never heard that one before. I play the hand I was dealt. Somebody please shoot me. The odds are always against you. Yes, because your script is terrible. I think these are only just a few of the examples. I get that these things are part of the gambling jargon, but do we really need to use them for life metaphors? NO, NOW KINDLY SHUT UP.
Overall, Runner, Runner looks good and will probably entertain low standards, but that’s about it. It falls flat with a cliché script and the laughably “too serious” attempt at acting by Justin Timberlake. For some reason, Timberlake can’t seem to step far enough away from his own image to actually become a character. Don’t get me wrong, Ben Affleck redeems a lot of the missteps here, but there are just so many that he’s overwhelmed. Basically, what I’m saying is, if you’ve seen the much better Rounders and 21, then Runner, Runner isn’t necessary.