Princeton grad student Richie (Justin Timberlake), believing he's been swindled, travels to Costa Rica to confront online gambling tycoon Ivan Block (Ben Affleck). Richie is seduced by Block's promise of immense wealth, until he learns the disturbing truth about his benefactor. When the FBI tries to coerce Richie to help bring down Block, Richie faces his biggest gamble ever: attempting to outmaneuver the two forces closing in on him.
I had low expectations going into Runner Runner. Yeah I like Affleck and Arterton can be good in things, but unless it’s Saturday Night Live, I’m not sold on Timberlake acting especially in a lead role in a drama. A bit role here or there, maybe a comedy, sure he might be OK, but I’ve yet to see him in anything that makes me think he’s beyond that. So what did I think of the film?
It’s not a completely unwatchable film, but if I never saw it again, I’d be fine with that. Going into it I expected either Rounders 2 or Boiler Room 2 and it’s kind of a combination of both. Timberlake plays a young poker phenom trying to pay his way through grad school after missing out on Wall St. Affleck plays the shady tycoon that seems more like a con man than entrepreneur. See, kinda like both. There’s lots of money that Timberlake isn’t really sure where it’s coming from, lots of gambling and pretty women. Unfortunately, that’s all there is.
The positives, Ben Affleck is good in it. It’s been a while since he’s played a bad guy. Well at least a bad guy you root against because technically he was a bad guy in The Town, but he was that film’s protagonist. His character in this is pretty much just a grown up version of his character from Boiler Room. Gemma Arterton is also pretty good. Sure she’s just glorified arm candy, but hey she looks good doing it!
Well that was the positives, here’s the negatives. My not being sold on Timberlake as a leading male didn’t change after seeing this. He’s not awful, but I just didn’t buy the character at all. A Princeton grad student whiz kid poker player? Nope didn’t believe it. Don’t get me wrong, I know that type of person. Heck MIT students had their own blackjack team that took down casinos, I just didn’t believe JT in that role. There’s at least 30 other actors I would have found more believable whether they were closer to the right age range or just didn’t have his background. His personal life, tabloid headlines and boy band past just didn’t let me see his role and not him.
Also, for a movie that sells itself on poker, there isn’t much poker in it. The name of the film is a poker term for needing to hit two consecutive cards in a row to win the hand. You have to hit runner runner to win. Other than a few scenes of JT on the computer and the occasional table game, there isn’t a whole lot of gambling. The film is more a straight forward drama that uses poker as a story developer. It could have been a stock market movie. A Ponzi Scheme movie. Heck even a sports movie with the athlete having to take a dive or whatever. Don’t expect as much card playing as Rounders or even Lucky You.
Runner Runner is probably not as bad as I thought it would be, but I can’t really recommend it either. There’s a reason it’s opening in October after all. It might make a few bucks, but Gravity will dominate the box office. I’ll just sit and wait for Affleck’s film with David Fincher and then this next directing gig.