Movie Reviews

‘Runner Runner’: Tawdry gambling melodrama has no pulse | 1 star

Updated: 2013-10-02T20:26:58Z

By TODD McCARTHY

The Hollywood Reporter

A story like that at the heart of “Runner Runner,” about a young American gambler who gets sucked way above his head into the criminal doings of a big-time offshore operator, would have found its ideal life as a tough, punchy, black-and-white thriller back in the 1950s.

Today, it would have been most viable as a grandiose character study done on an operatic scale by a filmmaker like Martin Scorsese or Michael Mann. What’s actually up onscreen in this vaguely ambitious but tawdry melodrama falls into an in-between no man’s land that endows it with no distinction whatsoever, a work lacking both style and insight into the netherworld it seeks to reveal.

Despite an intriguing setup and Ben Affleck and Justin Timberlake heading the cast, “Runner” holds a losing box-office hand.

Finance grad student Richie Furst (Timberlake) is threatened with expulsion from Princeton unless he shuts down his online gambling site. With nothing to lose, he heads for Costa Rica determined to stick it to the undisputed king of computer gambling, Ivan Black (Affleck).

Arriving during the boss’ annual blowout, the Midnight Black Expo, Richie cleverly scores an audience with the bodyguard-festooned Ivan. Lounging on his hero’s yacht, Richie brazenly accuses his relaxed host of cheating him on his site — and Ivan readily admits it. In the film’s best-written scene, the older man affably agrees to reimburse the kid for his losses and then some.

But, then again, Ivan can always use a smart, gutsy guy in his operation, so maybe Richie would like to come work for him. Seven, maybe even eight figures a year beckon.

With Puerto Rican locations doubling for Costa Rica, the allure of Ivan’s world looks pretty tacky no matter how doused in money it is. With the help of a couple of other Yankee college boys who are given no dimension whatsoever, Richie quickly learns the ropes and gets mixed signals from Ivan’s glamorous factotum Rebecca (Gemma Arterton), who may or may not be on exclusive reserve for the boss.

All goes swimmingly until, a third of the way in, Richie is kidnapped by the FBI, whose local agent Shavers (Anthony Mackie) tries to coerce the kid into informing on Ivan’s business.

The overriding problem with the direction by Brad Furman (“The Lincoln Lawyer”) is that it lacks a real pulse. Furman stuffs the screen with luxurious digs, fancy cars, cool boats, private jets and parties loaded with scantily clad women, but there’s no hook to snare the audience along for the ride.

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