Here'e why the Ben Affleck thriller Runner Runner should just keep running.
In Runner Runner, Princeton grad student Richie (Justin Timberlake) has turned a profitable online gambling career into a disaster, losing his life savings during an online swindle. He flies to Costa Rica filled with data from his tech pals at the university to find the site's owner Ivan Block (Ben Affleck), who not only refunds his money, but offers him a job. Soon, Richie is living the high life, analyzing gambling data and wooing clients. But Block's business is a dangerous one, filled with payoffs to a creepy gambling and murder; Richie soon learns that he's part of an elaborate sting operation by the FBI, led by Pain and Gain's Anthony Mackie, who will break any rule to nab Block. As Richie learns that Block plans to pin him for the company's missing profits, he must decide if Block's assistant (Gemma Arterton) is dirty as well, and whether he will cooperate with the FBI or run himself.
There's many things that bring Runner Runner down. Timberlake simply isn't strong enough here - nor is he ever in dramatic roles - to keep our attention or lead a scene. Once the very good Affleck disappears to create chaos elsewhere, Timberlake's mousy performance simply falls flat. He never seems comfortable, either with his lines or in the presence of his fellow actors. It's a problem that I've talked about before, from In Time to Trouble with the Curve, and it's becoming a trend. Although given multiple chances to prove himself, Timberlake just doesn't have the dramatic chops. On the other hand, Affleck plays jerk extremely well, quoting Napoleon and wishing he was back in the US enjoying a walk. Before he turns predictably villain, we actually feel for situation, on the run and never able to return to The States. He's the only reason why Runner doesn't fall flat on its face. Aterton is not really a factor here, except to look good in tight dresses and sound amazing (gotta love British accents). I wonder if the story would have been stronger with her at the lead instead of JT - an actor of her caliber would have made for a much better performance.
But casting isn't the only problem here. There's no twists in the script by Writers Brian Koppelman and David Levien, nothing to compel us to like Timberlake or hate Affleck, and certainly little to keep our attention. This is not a failed editing job or some other post-production nightmare, although Director Bad Fuhrman doesn't get the best out of his actors and misuses nods to Casino and even The Social Network. Not even production assistance from Leonardo DiCaprio doesn't help here - perhaps he was attached at one point to starring in Runner? As we're steered headlong into a somewhat predictable ending, we're no better off for knowing these characters, having gained no new insights into their personalities, and wondering how this will play with paying audiences who get no nudity but a surprising R rating.
As we discussed in our review of Liam Hemsworth's Paranoia, Runner Runner is a good example of why casting is absolutely essential to the success of a film. Timberlake is utterly forgettable here, with Aterton showing up almost as often as the scantily-clad hookers that the Costa Rican police seem to constantly surround themselves with. It's certainly not the worst film of 2013, but perhaps one of its most boring. Save this one to your Rainy Day queue, but set your theater sights higher. This one doesn't deserve your time. Runner Runner is rated R for language and some sexual content and has a runtime of 91 minutes.
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