Justin Timberlake tries to overcome a weak script

by Jamie Ballard

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“Runner Runner” tells the story of Richie Furst (Justin Timberlake), a Princeton University graduate student who loses his tuition money through an online gambling site. Being familiar with the intricacies of online gambling, he realizes he was cheated and travels to Costa Rica to meet with the owner of the site, Ivan Block (Ben Affleck). Block sees the potential in Furst, and woos him with promises of an eight-figure salary and opulent lifestyle. Furst joins the mega-empire of online gambling only to realize he’s unwittingly committed to a life of crime and corruption. He encounters an FBI agent (Anthony Mackie) who wants to take Block down, and needs Furst to do it.

At best, the film is visually fun. Watching Furst and his ladylove, Rebecca (Gemma Arterton) frolic around beautiful beaches and fabulous parties is temporarily entertaining. The drama paints a picture of an impossibly lavish lifestyle bursting with expensive cars, beachside mansions and private jets. All of this is nearly enough to distract the viewer from realizing that “Runner Runner” is actually dull.

Overall, “Runner Runner” falls a bit flat. The premise feels stale and the plotline is predictable. “Runner Runner” is hardly the first thriller to take a well-intentioned college kid and thrust him into a life of gambling and corruption where he must decide what is right and wrong.

Timberlake and Affleck play their roles well. Timberlake is semi-believable as the college student seduced by a life of luxury, and Affleck does a great job as the enigmatic and charming kingpin of the illegal operation. It’s fun to watch their interactions change, particularly as Furst begins to realize how unfeeling Block really is. Neither seems to have real chemistry with Rebecca, though Mauro Fiore’s cinematography tries to convince the audience otherwise through use of close-ups as the actors stare into each others’ eyes. The actors themselves get a few funny lines here and there, and they do have good comedic timing. It’s enough to make viewers wish there was a touch more comedy to the film.

Though it tries to distinguish itself as an original, “Runner Runner” still feels like all of the other flashy high-stakes gambling tales from years past. It’s best described as “forgettable,” or perhaps “vigorously unremarkable.”

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Photo courtesy of Robert Gauthier/Los Angeles Times/MCT

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