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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


    Script folds in ‘Runner Runner’

    Appian Way

    The shady business of online gambling is front and center as Richie Furst (Justin Timberlake) becomes involved with the scheming online gaming mogul Ivan Block (Ben Affleck). “Runner Runner,” despite its unique concept and potential, fails on nearly all fronts.

    Furst is a Princeton University graduate student struggling to pay his tuition. To make money, he refers people to an online poker website, but that line of work is quickly shot down when the dean threatens Furst with legal action for promoting gambling on campus.

    Faced with no other choice, Furst transfers his entire bank balance, some $17,000, to an online poker account and begins gambling to win his tuition money. He loses everything, and, after running some numbers, determines that the players he lost to must have been cheating. He travels to Costa Rica to confront Block, the website’s owner and one of the biggest names in online gambling.

    Block, seeing promise in Furst, asks him to stay and help him run his empire. Furst, given the promise of millions of dollars, stays on and soon learns that Costa Rica, and Block, may not be all that they seem.

    The script is the main culprit in robbing this movie of its quality. The plot synopsis is an intriguing one.

    With the seedy world of online gambling, the movie tries to be timely. However, the film commits the unforgivable sin: being boring.

    Though it uses online poker as the backdrop, it doesn’t offer up any sort of ideas or claims about the topic. Not even addressing anything on an intellectual level, which would be asking too much of this film, it simply isn’t entertaining.

    The audience’s pulse is never raised, and the stakes never seem very high. The plot revelations and the twists don’t shock, but ring hollow.

    Moreover, the film beats the dead horse of poker metaphors time and time again. Timberlake’s character breaks the fourth wall to directly address the audience several times thoughout the film, and always refers to cringe-inducing metaphors, which involve phrases like “when you’re dealt a bad hand,” or “when all the chips are down” or “go all in.”

    Still, Timberlake does a fairly good job as Furst, the bright-eyed and bushy-tailed newcomer to this land of scheme and corruption. Affleck probably has the most memorable performance — which is not saying a lot — as the enigmatic Block, who goes back and forth between positively building up Furst’s confidence by taking him under his wing and then undermining that confidence.

    Gemma Arterton plays Rebecca, Block’s number two, who becomes romantically involved with Furst. Anthony Mackie plays the overly aggressive FBI Agent Shavers, who’s been camped out in Costa Rica for quite some time trying to take Block down.

    The failures of “Runner Runner” are all the more disappointing considering the fact that it serves as the follow-up to Brad Furman’s last directorial effort, “The Lincoln Lawyer” — an overall well-done, smart film with a fine performance from Matthew McConaughey. “Runner Runner” could have been just as good, yet the script fails.

    “Runner Runner” is simply a wave on a cinematic beach, making the briefest of impressions when you see it, and then it’s gone, forgotten just as quickly as it came. But in roughly four months’ time when this is out on DVD, you could do worse for a rental.

    Grade: C-

    Follow Alex Guyton @TDWildcatFilm

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