“Runner, Runner,” the latest gambling thriller to hit the box office, is a lot like going to a casino; you’ll have a good time if you know what to expect and are willing to waste a little money. Starring Ben Affleck and Justin Timberlake, the film has a few strong moments, but ultimately comes off as a formulaic attempt at a blockbuster, shamelessly marketed with a pair of big names to sell tickets.
The plot follows Timberlake’s Richie Furst, a former Wall Street executive burned by the recession, who now pursues a master’s degree. Due to his former income bracket, he is ineligible for financial aid and has been forced to resort to online gambling to pay his tuition. However when Furst loses big and senses that he’s been cheated, he flies to Costa Rica to confront the man who runs the gambling website, Ivan Block (Ben Affleck). Impressed that Furst was able to detect that he’d indeed been swindled, Block offers him a job at his offshore gambling empire, at which point Furst becomes incredibly rich doing business in the legal gray area that surrounds the world of online gambling.
The main problem with the plot of “Runner, Runner” is its predictability. The script is lazy, stringing together cliché after cliché to construct a repulsive amalgamation of events you’ve already witnessed from watching many other films of the crime and thriller genres. For instance, there’s the obligatory subplot where Furst senses trouble and decides he wants to escape his life of crime, but he’s “in too deep” and “it’s no longer an option.” The emotional scenes all fall flat, and the phrase “the house always wins” is overused to the point of frustration.
However, despite all its flaws, the film has its moments, all of which involve Affleck. An earmark of acting talent is the ability to deliver a good performance in a bad movie, and Affleck accomplishes just that.
Justin Timberlake can be a great actor, but was out of his element portraying Furst. He just isn’t good at acting like he has no money, which shouldn’t be too much of a surprise considering he’s been rich since before he could legally drive. Until his character begins to make money, Timberlake’s performance seems forced and uncomfortable. As a comedic performer, he can be brilliant, but I fear that any dramatic role outside the immediate vicinity of the Sean Parker-esque may be beyond his grasp as an actor.
The most frustrating aspect of this film was how blatantly it attempted to relate to the socio-economic climate faced by the millennial generation, especially the protagonist being a college student whose future has been compromised by the financial crisis. It all adds up to a movie that a marketing firm decided that 18-24 year-olds should love. At one point Block even gives the familiar speech about the younger generation “not knowing the meaning of hard work” and even mentions participation trophies inspiring a sense of entitlement.
Apart from Ben Affleck’s pleasant turn playing a villain, “Runner, Runner” isn’t even worth the roll of the dice to see. With clichés that pile as high as the height of a Vegas hotel, the movie does absolutely nothing new to the genres it emulates.
NOT RECOMMENDED: Don’t gamble your money on paying to see this forgettable thriller.
Filed Under: Entertainment