You should know going in that "Runner Runner" is not a good film no matter how you try to look at it. The most enjoyable aspect of the film is going into it thinking it's rated PG-13 and then being pleasantly surprised that it's actually rated R. Despite its rating, the film feels like a completely saturated version of the genre counterparts it likely borrows from. Films like "The Sting," "Casino," and "Ocean's Eleven." "Runner Runner" is like a tasteless alcoholic concoction that no amount of shaking or stirring could possibly add any sort of flavor to.
Richie Furst (Justin Timberlake) leads fellow Princeton University alumni to an online gaming site that results in Richie getting paid for his efforts and a lot of students gambling their parents money away. His future at Princeton is suddenly in jeopardy when the dean forces Richie to choose his residency or the virtual casino without the two ever meeting again. Richie bets his life savings as a last ditch effort, gets swindled, and loses everything. Instead of accepting his defeat, Richie travels to Costa Rica to confront Ivan Block (Ben Affleck), the mastermind behind the site, face-to-face. Richie is offered everything he's ever wanted by Ivan, but being involved with such a lucrative business obviously has its price; a price even Richie can't begin to imagine.
Justin Timberlake can't seem to catch a break when it comes to acting. He may be a part of projects that initially have potential, but nothing has really gained any steam other than his performance in "The Social Network." "Runner Runner" is no different. While Timberlake is at the front of the pack, you never really seem to care how Richie's life ends up during the film. Most of that blame can be placed on the writers as Timberlake seems to do the best with what's in front of him, but if you're carrying a film it's your job to make the audience interested. You're the face on promotional material, you're the one doing every press junket, and the film's success will likely hinder on your performance. Timberlake does seem to have natural charisma, but it's as if he's too lackadaisical to fully capitalize on it and most of the films he chooses to star in suffer because of it.
The film mostly feels like a never ending string of F-words thanks to Ben Affleck. When you first see Ivan Block, he's indirectly offering some elderly clients fellatio from his masseuse in order to smooth over a transaction. The character is very stereotypical after that; a kingpin who never lifts a finger since the entire island is on his pay roll. Gemma Arterton seems much more animated than some of her previous performances. She actually smiles at times and cries at one point. Anthony Mackie is the most passionate of the cast, but he also feels the most one-dimensional. An FBI agent who bends the rules and yells obscenities doesn't exactly add a whole lot of depth. The biggest issue is when any of these actors get together in one scene, you don't feel anything. There's no excitement or connection. Everything feels so flat and thrown together.
The crocodiles in the film are only featured in two scenes, but they're two of the best scenes in the film. They even bring out the best in Affleck's performance, so naturally they tend to somehow outshine everyone in the cast. The dialogue gets noticeably immature at times with the word "hoss" being thrown around infrequently and women being called magical unicorns. Certain things don't really add up either. Richie bets his life savings and loses it all at the start of the film. If he did that, then how in the world did he get to Costa Rica? After being confronted by Agent Shavers (Mackie), Richie discusses the abduction with Ivan who seems to know all about Shavers' antics. So why would a forced picture with the FBI agent be any sort of leverage later on in the film?
"Runner Runner" may feature a recognizable cast, but it doesn't do the film any good. There's no on-screen chemistry, no performance provokes any sort of emotional investment into any of the characters, and you can literally see where the film is going as soon as Richie Furst heads to Costa Rica. Absolutely lackluster during its best moments, "Runner Runner" is a lifeless dramatic crime thriller that is never able to wake up from hibernation.
"Runner Runner" will be released in theaters across the country starting today, October 4.