While many films stand the test of time, others fade into obscurity. Whether this happens over a period of years or almost instantly upon a film’s release, one thing is clear: Runner Runner has slipped through the cracks of our collective memory to join the ranks of the Films That Time Forgot.
Though the name may sound thoroughly ridiculous to those not versed in specific poker lingo (like us), Runner Runner actually seems intriguing on paper. Named for what essentially amounts to an incredibly lucky turn during a hand of poker, the film itself follows a gambling-based premise surrounding an online casino-based enterprise. It also happens to star Justin Timberlake, Ben Affleck, and Gemma Arterton.
The film follows Richie (Timberlake), a former Wall Street trader who encounters financial issues while studying at Harvard. He turns to online poker to try to win his tuition, but is cheated by the system. He jets off to Costa Rica to confront Ivan Block (Ben Affleck), an online casino mogul who subsequently employs Richie. However, all is not as it seems with Block’s business, and Richie quickly finds himself in over his head.
When boiled down to the broad strokes, the premise sounds pretty solid. There’s also a subplot about Richie’s blossoming romance with his dangerous employer’s assistant and former lover (Arterton) which should serve to heighten the tension. However, the film just doesn’t come together as it should. So what’s the problem?
Runner Runner’s Plot Is Woefully Unintelligent & Criminally Boring
It might sound like a promising story, but it fails to deliver. The film’s first half is more than passable, although there’s some significant pacing issues. The first few scenes fly by in a blur, bouncing Richie from situation to situation at breakneck speeds in order to get him where the film needs him to be. However, the third act is practically nonsensical, going entirely off the rails in an inexplicable montage of bribery that’s apparently intended to demonstrate Richie’s criminal savvy. The resulting conclusion isn’t just an anticlimax, but it’s also rushed and thoroughly idiotic.
As he had already proved in In Time and The Social Network, Timberlake possesses genuine screen presence, and he leads the charge with gusto. Similarly, Affleck plays a convincingly ruthless villain, and the pair try valiantly to sell the film’s brainless story. Sadly, it’s just not enough.
Every now and then, the film peppers in a few lines of jargon about source codes or poker plays in an attempt to seem more intelligent than it is. This rings about as hollow as the film’s plot, making everything about it feel forced and unnecessary. Though Timberlake and Affleck make for a good pairing, there’s absolutely nothing about Runner Runner that makes it worth remembering.
Summary: Despite the efforts of its leading men, Runner Runner fails to live up to the better (and smarter) movies it emulates.
Highlight: The third act montage of Richie wandering around Costa Rica handing unmarked envelopes to numerous unnamed characters might be an unbelievably stupid way to lead into the film’s ending, but it’s also unintentionally hilarious.