Richie Furst (Justin Timberlake), the hero of Runner Runner, is a smart kid who tries to win his tuition money for Princeton by playing online poker.
When he discovers that the game is fixed, he jets off down to Costa Rica to confront the site’s owner and legendary gambling tycoon, Ivan Block (Ben Affleck). But rather than engaging in a game of fistycuffs Richie allows himself to get drawn into the high life that Block offers.
He realises before it is too late to get out that he is being given a lavish life because he is being set up to be the fall out guy for Blocks various illegal activities. With the CIA on his tail Richie seeks redemption and revenge after being double-crossed and then framed by Block; a menacing lunatic with a Cheshire cat smile.
Filled with lush views of tropical beaches, expensive parties and apartments, and sumptuously beautiful but barely impressionable women, Runner Runner is unfortunately all talk and no action. The movie might be passable if the people involved in making it had given the same thought and concentration to the development of the plot and the ending as they did to the fairly involving set-up.
In its two male leads, Runner Runner offers a study in contrasts. Timberlake is still obviously excited to be headlining a movie, any kind of movie, and he takes everything he’s doing here with an extra dose of seriousness and interest. He holds the screen, and he loves being on it. Then you remember that he was in Social Network and wasn’t that great in it. After this your mind casts back to the 2011 sci-fi flop In Time, that yes you guessed it, starred Timberlake…and he sucked in it.
Director Brad Furman gives his key character Ivan Block a visually striking entrance in a steam bath whilst screenwriters Brian Koppelman and David Levien give Block an entertaining, chewy monologue that many other actors might have made a meal of. But Affleck just sits there in the steam bath and talks without inflecting anything and makes it extremely clear that he doesn’t want to be acting in this movie or acting at all. He seems irritated that he even had to memorize his lines. He is going to destroy Batman for many people in the upcoming Batman/Superman sequel to Man of Steel.
Affleck has always been a strange case. He’s been in films for twenty years now, and he’s a star, but has any other star been as frankly indifferent as he often seems on screen? His eyes and his voice are inexpressive, and his body seems sedentary even in movement. He has none of the joy or need or skill of an actor, and he never really did.
Either he needs to find some energy for this kind of thing, or he should just gracefully step back and direct movies or do something else that interests him more, because his laziness in Runner Runner is very apparent. Don’t get me wrong Argo was an impressive movie, Affleck both directed and starred in it, but it seems that when he isn’t in the director’s chair, in control, the only thing he brings to his role is lethargy.
At the climax of the movie, when his character is supposed to look surprised, Affleck merely turns his head slightly and blinks his eyes a couple of times, seemingly exhausted by the whole affair.
As an exercise in style, Runner Runner has its moments, especially early on, but Affleck’s lethargy seems to infect the film itself after a while. Inventive framing and shot selection give way finally to let’s-get-this-done conversations, filmed in unimaginative shot/reverse-shot style. Recast Ivan Block with any number of actors and Runner Runner might have been small-time but would have been injected with some fun. With Affleck at its centre, the film becomes a tedious study in a poker face with other things on its mind.
By Ruth Walker