Runner Runner is further proof that – at this time at least – Justin Timberlake is not a captivating lead actor. The musician/actor is a capable supporting player, but the everyman is not his specialty.
In his new film, Timberlake plays Richie Furst, a young man finishing up his master’s degree at Princeton with one problem; he can’t afford the tuition to complete his schooling. What Richie lacks in a checking account he more than makes up for his knowledge of gambling, especially how to use the odds to increase your winnings. During a night of last-chance, high-stakes online poker, Richie loses badly.
He is positive the game was rigged.
Richie seeks out the owner of the Costa Rica based website, the rich as rich can be Ivan Block (Ben Affleck). He, oddly enough, quickly finds his way to Mr. Block, telling him off about the incident. In response, Block offers our protagonist a job. Sure it’s got some shady elements and is sprinkled with shady people; the gig comes with mucho dinero. A life of available women, flesh-devouring beasts, bullets and more money is the new lifestyle, one that Richie soon – shockingly – discovers comes with quite the bundle of strings attached.
Runner Runner plays out with nary a surprise. Richie ends up in over his head. The clearly not-so-nice Block turns out to be not-so-nice. Plus, since it’s a film featuring a lot of gambling – and is by the writers of Rounders – we get oodles of eye-rolling narration about everyone having a tell, pushing all the chips in, houses winning and the like. This is mediocrity to the point of tedium. One can’t point to exact terrible scenes in Runner Runner, outside of the groaning aforementioned narration. One is also unable to note scenes with any particular charm. Affleck is fine as the cool and devious millionaire, but has little to do than monologue on a big boat.
This is Timberlake’s failure though. For as weak the picture is, neither Affleck nor the briefly seen Anthony Mackie fail to leave some sort of imprint. Timberlake is vanilla walking; not the good kind either, the type which comes in a three-gallon tub at Safeway for six dollars. He never sinks into the role; his acting is ever-present on his mug. Perhaps that’s why Timberlake worked well in The Social Network, where he portrayed a manipulative liar whose inner-working couldn’t help but itch their ways to the surface. Richie, like his dull In Time lead a few years back, is stilted when he’s meant to be stoic.
Runner Runner opens wide all across Seattle tomorrow.