DIR: Brad Furman • WRI: Brian Koppelman, David Levien • PRO: Leonardo DiCaprio, Jennifer Davisson Killoran , Brian Koppelman, David Levien, Michael Shamberg , Stacey Sher • DOP: Mauro Fiore • ED: Jeff McEvoy • DES: Charisse Cardenas • Cast: Justin Timberlake, Ben Affleck, Gemma Arterton, Anthony Mackie
You go the cinema expecting an expose doc on the trainer industry and instead end up with a run of the mill thriller. Fittingly, this film is bizarrely akin to spending an hour and a half on a treadmill. Insofar as it expends a lot of energy but really doesn’t go anywhere. Not anywhere remotely interesting anyway.
Justin Timberlake takes a break from his music to play a Princeton grad student who takes a break from his studies to track down the shady big-wig behind an online poker empire. His crudely named character Richie Furst considers himself a bit of a whizz at virtual cards but takes major umbrage when he is cleared out online. Proving that you have to spend money to get money back, he takes off on a rather whimsical trip to Costa Rica to get his tuition fees reimbursed. Convinced that he has been ripped off, Richie intends to confront the mysterious businessman Ivan Block (Ben Affleck) behind an ultra successful cyber gambling site.
Disproportionally impressed by this bit of brio, Block naturally offers Richie the kind of Faustian pact that even blind blues musicians at a crossroads at midnight could see coming from a million miles away. Richie subsequently appears to develop a kind of ‘crime glaucoma’ where everything is rosy and legit right in front of his eyes but he inexplicably can’t see the major criminal edges of Block’s empire. Even subtle hints like Block feeding lumps of frozen meat to his pet crocodiles on a moonlit jetty fail to raise an eyebrow. It apparently takes a lot to sour Richie’s cheery worldview that mobsters, gamblers and prostitutes are all law-abiding all of the time.
With American law enforcement closing in on the exiled Block, soon Richie’s only choice is whether to be a stool pigeon for the Feds or a patsy for the bad guy. Perhaps his eureka moment arrived in a deleted scene where he rents ‘The Firm’ (the Tom Cruise one – not the Danny Dyer one) and follows its’ step by step guide to getting out of this exact same scenario. In fact, this entire film feels like one particular sequence from that thriller where Gene Hackman brought Cruiser down to the Caymans to corrupt him.
Trying to figure out the motivation of the actors for doing this rather feeble film is kind of fun. Timberlake is definitely committed to being serious about his thespian career. Protected by strong directors like Fincher in The Social Network, he can transmit his inherent charm through the camera with nonchalant ease. Nor is the onus of shouldering the central role brand new territory for him. He has borne the pressure of carrying a movie before and far better than here. Even in fluff like Friends with Benefits or In Time, he stretched himself and, to an extent, proved himself. In this, he looks uncomfortable and even that discomfort doesn’t feed into the nervous energy that the character should emit at pivotal moments.
Whereas ostensible female lead Gemma Arterton needs exposure in big American releases so her agenda is obvious and understandable though the resultant pallid role never taps into her considerable talents. For Affleck, you’d have to suspect the pay cheque was more tempting than the material. An opening speech about exile aside, there’s no depth or context to Block’s villainy. Maybe Affleck got to write Argo 2 on location in the tropics but the outstanding question then becomes what exactly does an audience get out of Runner Runner?
Precious little is the answer unless you’re in the most forgiving form of your life. It may just suffice as a sun kissed slice of distraction but in reality, there’s not a beat of this story that isn’t predictable or even tries to subvert the overly familiar.
Admittedly this is glib but if someone suggests going to Runner Runner, do a runner in the opposite direction.
15A (See IFCO for details)
Runner Runner is released on 27th September 2013