<Review by: Sailesh Ghelani>
Directed by Brad Furman. Starring Ben Affleck, Justin Timberlake, Gemma Arterton, Anthony Mackie, John Heard
This play-it-by-the-numbers crime drama is exceptionally predictable and somewhat implausible with only one bright spot: Ben Affleck.
Movies with voiceovers can sound very pretentious. Even a bit silly. This is one such movie where Justin Timberlake trying to be all clever and intellectual in a voiceover just doesn’t work.
Our boy wonder Justin plays Richie, who’s lost his high-paying Wall Street job in the financial crisis of 2008 and now studies at Princeton and gets his college buddies to sign up for online gambling matches, which makes him extra money to pay for college tuition. Bad Richie gets caught and told not to. So then, like the very intelligent finance whiz that he is he bets his entire savings on one online game and loses it all.
If that isn’t enough Richie then learns that he’s been cheated by this online gambling site that belongs to Ivan Block (Ben Affleck) a notoriously shady gaming king pin who lives in Costa Rica (actually shot in Puerto Rico) since his shenanigans are illegal on US soil. So for about $17,000 in lost savings, Richie decides to leave school and get on a plane to Costa Rica to tell Ivan Block that his site has cheated him. Believable? Barely. Smart? Not by a long shot.
Ivan offers Richie a refund or a job and Richie takes the job. Instantly he’s transformed from a struggling college student into a high-throwing businessman for Ivan’s ruthless organisation. Now it’s fast cars, bags of money and a heavily bronzed Gemma Arterton that fill his life. Until of course things start getting murky. And you know it’s murky even before he takes the job so it’s surprising how this apparently brilliant young boy doesn’t realise it. Maybe it’s just the lure of putting his ample talents to profitable use when his own country and people don’t seem to be taking notice. Brain drain America, perhaps.
The FBI (agent played Anthony Mackie) and the corrupt officials don’t like Ivan Block but he doesn’t give a fuck. Because he’s Batman! Yes Ben Affleck, the guy who’s gotten all the flack for being chosen to play Batman in the next Super Man movie is the guy who saves Runner Runner from its mundane and formulaic script. When he’s onscreen you just want him to stay. As good as an actor Timberlake is (for a musician, that is) he just doesn’t cut it in this film. His chemistry with Gemma Arterton is so forced and needless that you crave for a scene with Ben and Gemma just making out in a tub of Ben and Jerry’s!
The whole young apprentice being betrayed by his mentor story and getting back at him is so prosaic that you know exactly what is going to happen at the end. Go watch Runner Runner just for Ben Affleck who careens through his scenes like a snowplough on nitrous oxide. Intense, engaging and in control, Affleck is woefully underrated and indefensibly vilified. He’ll make a great Batman.