2013, R, 91 min. Directed by Brad Furman. Starring Justin Timberlake, Ben Affleck, Gemma Arterton, Anthony Mackie, John Heard, Yul Vazquez.
REVIEWED By Kimberley Jones, Fri., Oct. 11, 2013
Thrillers don’t come much more nondescript than this: If Runner Runner were a color scheme, it would be beige, with an accent wall in taupe. Timberlake plays Richie Furst, a Princeton grad student who turns to online poker to pull himself out of ruinous debt. When his luck runs out, Richie becomes convinced he was swindled by the gaming site, called Midnight Black; rather improbably, he decides to go to Costa Rica to meet Midnight Black mogul Ivan Block (Affleck) and soon gets swept up in the business.
Presumably, someone in a test screening somewhere got nervous after the rough cut, because an unnecessary voiceover narration runs throughout, with Richie spelling out the action even as it clearly unfolds onscreen. It also doesn’t make much sense to force audience identification with Richie, who has finite knowledge of the shady dealings at Midnight Black, and then train the camera on behind-closed-doors meetings that Richie isn’t privy to. The plot isn’t particularly confusing, but these lurches between limited perspective and omniscience are certainly confused.
The acting’s fine, even if Timberlake – who enters every room like he owns it – isn’t hungry enough to play the upstart Richie, and Affleck attacks the role of the hedonistic heavy with about as much bloodlust as a vegan at a pig pull. Director Furman and cinematographer Mauro Fiore make lovely work of the tropical light, but the film has none of the loose-limbed energy of Furman’s stealth hit, The Lincoln Lawyer.