Runner Runner may be written by the team behind the under-appreciated Rounders, but it’s more like Robert Luketic’s 21 in terms of quality. Taking its name from an extremely difficult poker flush, a term that’s referenced just once, the latest from Brad Furman (The Lincoln Lawyer) moves well enough, but is ultimately middling and predictable. A hybrid of The Firm and modern technology, a combination that didn’t work so well for Paranoia two months back, it ups the ante with a promising cast and filmmakers known for decent entertainment. Never quite clicking, the separate parts do little beyond the minimum in getting the film to its expected finish and, due to extreme sluggishness from its two stars, neuters a potentially appealing dramatic showdown.
Screenwriters Brian Koppelman and David Levien use cool, cocksure narration similar to that delivered by Matt Damon 15 years ago, but funneled through Justin Timberlake, the lines lose much of their edge. As Princeton grad student Richie Furst, Timberlake is placed in a strong yet standard hero role, and the balance of charm and daring seems a strong fit for him. Convinced that an online poker site cheated him out of $17,000 (he has the logarithms to prove it), he heads down to Costa Rica to confront the Internet company’s CEO, Ivan Block (Ben Affleck), a brash move that hints at the film’s true wonky nature. Down in paradise, captured by Furman in all its lush glory, the two men form a partnership, but when troubling revelations about his new boss come to light, Richie finds himself in a more literal interpretation of the title. Throw in a love interest (Gemma Arterton), U.S. government agents, and threats against Richie’s father (John Heard), and a toddler can connect the dots.
Even with the so-so story, Runner Runner is ripe for a little overacting, but neither lead performance has a trace of gusto. Instead, Timberlake and Affleck appear locked in an unspoken competition to see who can deliver the most lines the flattest, and for a while the race is neck-and-neck. Affleck loses ground whenever he’s around crocodiles, who tend to bring out a hint of the crazies, but quickly regains his bland composure, further dialing back for a photo finish. Having somewhat hidden his limitations behind marquee projects and a rising directorial star in recent years, the lack of charisma bodes problematic for his upcoming turn as Bruce Wayne in Batman vs. Superman, a film in which he’s unlikely to receive much aid from its director, Zack Snyder. As for Timberlake? Well, his new album was released last week, so he should be fine.
Thank goodness for Anthony Mackie. As is usually the case when he’s cast in a film, he delivers. Apparently the only performer given coffee on set, his FBI Agent Shavers brings some much-needed energy, despite totaling perhaps five minutes of screen time. Aware of the fun one could (and should) have with parts like these in a popcorn flick like Runner Runner, he’s a rare bright spot in an otherwise dim affair.
Rated R for language and some sexual content.
Runner Runner is currently playing at the Carolina Cinemas on Hendersonville Rd.