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Movie Review | ‘Runner Runner’ is a film to walk away from

Published: Friday, October 18, 2013

Updated: Friday, October 18, 2013 08:10

With big-name stars such as Ben Affleck and Justin Timberlake, how could “Runner Runner” not generate intense anticipation? Despite the hype, the film fails to deliver and leaves audience members disappointed on many fronts.

At the film’s start, we see a financially struggling Princeton graduate student named Richie Furst (Justin Timberlake) being reprimanded for bringing gambling onto the Princeton campus — a habit he picked up as a way to pay for tuition. The audience quickly learns that Furst comes from a broken family and has a gambling-addicted father, whom he desperately tries to help even in Furst’s own miserable financial situation. Soon, Furst decides he has no choice but to invest his life savings in an online gambling website, and consequently discovers he’s been cheated by the system, losing all his money. He then makes his way to Costa Rica, where he meets offshore entrepreneur Ivan Block (Ben Affleck), the elusive and infamous king of online gambling. After proving to Block that he was cheated, Furst is offered a job with Block’s online gambling company and begins a career in his 20s earning a seven-figure salary in a dangerous business.

“Runner Runner” ultimately has an unimaginative ending that can easily be predicted within the movie’s first five minutes. The action film archetype could not have been more closely followed. Viewers are presented with the central conflict during the collegiate-set opening scenes, but it takes way too long to break into the excitement. The film could be salvaged if there was some real character development to complement the plot, but that is noticeably absent. Quite honestly, Furst might as well be twiddling his thumbs until the action begins. Throw in an attractive romantic interest Rebecca Shafran (Gemma Arterton) — off-limits to the underdog — and about an hour into the movie a discernable storyline finally emerges.

Overall, Timberlake’s acting seems horribly forced. The one-liners he delivers in serious scenarios seem unnecessary and, at times, corny. After all, Furst is supposedly a Princeton graduate student — he shouldn’t need to crack sexual remarks every time the dialogue simmers down. On the other hand, Affleck does a much better job portraying Block — his depiction is actually on par with the level of acting we’re used to seeing from such A-list stars. Although he plays the classic good-guy-gone-bad, Affleck manages to make his character sympathetic. It is clear he’s going to end up on the dark side, but audience members will want to believe that Block is different — even while he bathes in millions of dollars and objectifies women.

The Costa Rican setting of the film provides a tantalizing background of beautiful women and gambling sharks. The juxtaposition of the gambler’s lavish lifestyle with the poverty of the natives feels realistic — a breath of fresh air amid the smoky atmosphere that encircles Block and his colleagues. Furthermore, Block’s pressing need to pay off government officials in order to stay in business is another subtle highlight of the film.

In deciding whether or not to see this movie, potential viewers should remember to adjust their expectations. As a typical action movie in every aspect of the phrase, “Runner Runner” is decent, and watching stars Affleck and Timberlake does have a certain appeal. However, if you’re looking for the caliber of quality entertainment that these two gentlemen should be producing, you might be better off spending your evening listening to Timberlake’s new album.

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