“Runner Runner” is stacked with a deck of familiar stars. Unfortunately, these famous names, along with this crime flick’s gorgeous locations, are only able to paint a good vibe for the first few minutes of the tale. It actually starts off with a solid draw, but it easily folds on the flop a couple of scenes later.
Amidst the technically pleasing presentation, this cinematic offering is unable to hold up to the needed excitement and suspense expected for the material. The dull and perfunctory narrative relies on a dice toss for the sake of guilty pleasure. Unfortunately, the entire casino experience merely ends up as a bland escapade.
This dramatic thriller’s main problem is that it prioritizes cheap thrills over story and character development. Instead of investing on a good script, it merely designs a by-the-numbers plot ready to fill the frame with exotic places and parties. By the time all of the story cards get revealed, it is hard not to feel quite cheated by them.
The movie revolves around the character Richie, a financially struggling Princeton student who pays for school through online gambling. After realizing he got cheated after risking all of his tuition money in an online gambling site, he travels to Costa Rica to confront the owner of the site known for its reputation of protecting its clients from cheaters and swindlers. As the big guy sees a kindred spirit on Richie, he offers him a job he couldn’t resist. When he gets into the operations, he finds himself living the life he never thought he could ever have. Everything seems enjoyable at first for all the mundane goodies offered on a daily basis. But as the stakes get incredibly high, so does the danger. In no time, he realizes the deviousness of his new boss as he tries to turn the tables on him.
The story reflects the superficiality of the main character’s world. Everything looks sophisticated on the outside, but the sketchy interior can easily crumble from the inside. The way things unveil on screen turns out like a player bearing that high-stakes aura upon entering the gambling floor. However, this person simply tries to win an average stack of chips — betting moderately to play safe, then cashing out just even. The way things progress on screen, there seems to be no crucial decision to really risk things for better storytelling.
This gambling and revenge tale is occasionally entertaining, primarily with the way it trades in some slick one-liners from its A-list cast. However, many scenes lack the precious little dangers that can really keep the kind of momentum the story demands for. The few action parts have nothing much to offer other than the well-worn template often seen in similar movies. The narrative gets burdened with gambling metaphors that don’t really play out well with the film’s need for thematic coherence. The formula looks way too predictable from start to end: an oppressed protagonist on a mission meets the antagonist in disguise as his champion, then this underdog hero tries to save the day with a femme fatale by his side. Simply toss around some eye-catching people, sceneries, and situations, then you have the typical recipe for a mediocre crime drama and thriller.
Justin Timberlake on the lead role and Ben Affleck as his savior-turned-adversary offer some promise early on. As they go head to head and through the motions, their best poker faces get shortchanged by the weak material and lackluster storytelling. Gemma Arterton is simply used as a device to make the proceedings look more palatable. Too bad, even if her character gets removed, there is still the same story to tell. Disappointingly, these actors are never fully convincing in their roles, mainly because of the very shallow narrative.