Movie review: Runner Runner is a losing gamble


DURATION: 92 minutes

The story: Princeton master's student Richie First (Justin Timberlake) gets a bit of commission on every potential customer he draws to an online gambling site. One day, he visits the site himself and stakes all of his tuition money in a drawn-out game of poker. When his opponent cheats him of all the money, he flies off to Costa Rica to confront the elusive site creator Ivan Block (Ben Affleck).

In poker, a "runner runner" refers to a card that greatly improves someone's hand. Given how terribly messy this film is, it should have been slapped with the warning title Run Run instead.

The movie actually starts promisingly enough. Whiz kid Richie First is seen studying in his university library, when a flustered old professor flops down in a chair next to him and quietly seeks Richie's advice about an online gamble gone wrong.

You wonder immediately who this seemingly innocuous student is and the power reversal between him and the desperate, crying professor.

But just as quickly, the story falls apart. The film loses focus after this intriguing scene and goes off on a tangent. And the weird directions taken are not always plausible.

When Richie loses his tuition money in an online poker game, he decides to confront the mastermind behind the gambling site. He must be an incredibly lucky young man because it takes him only half a day to locate Ivan Block - even though the latter is said to be a legend who is "impossible" to find.

The revenge plot then turns inexplicably into a partnership: Richie accepts an offer from Ivan to manage the site and negotiate with investors offline. Why Richie would want to do that, after only a vapid exchange with Ivan, is anyone's guess.

In fact, the protagonist's motivation is never quite clear, with the script by Brian Koppelman and David Levien (Oceans 13) demanding that the audience simply accept his bizarre choices.

Still, Justin Timberlake tries very hard in the role. His smart alec smooth talker is reminiscent of his earlier star turn as Napster co-founder Sean Parker in The Social Network (2010).

Ben Affleck, however, is utterly miscast in the role of Ivan, his All-American Nice Guy image getting in the way of him oozing the cold-blooded menace required of a crime boss.

Every now and then, director Brad Furman attempts to inject some energy into the film with a wild party or strange torture scene. There is also English actress Gemma Arterton as Richie's love interest and the movie's obligatory vamp.

But underneath the pulsating disco beats, flashy yachts and occasional bloody nose, there is not enough soul to keep you watching, much less betting on Richie to win.

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