Starring: Justin Timberlake, Gemma Arterton, Ben Affleck
Genre: Thriller/ Drama
Because of formerly working on Wall Street, Kingston grad student Richie (Timberlake) has to fund his tuition fees himself, and to do so he uses his gambling skills to win his tuition fees from online gambling. After believing he has been swindled out of his money by a specially designed cheat a website which he can easily prove, he travels to Costa Rica (as you do) to confront the wealthy and powerful owner of the website, Ivan Block (Affleck). Block is impressed by Richie’s technical talents, and so invites him to join him and Richie is sucked in by the immense wealth of this life. However, after learning of the more shady side to Block’s business and having an FBI agent (Anthony Mackie) constantly on his back, as well as being emotionally involved with Block’s PA (Arterton), Richie finds himself increasingly out of his depth where his next gamble could be for his life.
Well, looking by the perfume advert-esque poster for Runner Runner, it could be called Smug: The Movie. Throughout the narrative there is an overbearing and rather pungent aura of complacent smugness that having a film containing exotic locations, slick suits, vast wealth, beautiful people and caricature dangerous locals and corrupt politicians is enough for a thriller. What director Brad Furman (after doing the excellent The Lincoln Lawyer he should now feel shame) and writers Brian Koppelman and David Levien seemed to forget is that you also need a good script. A 90 minute running time is actually refreshing in this day and age, but within that 90 minutes we have a dull ‘thriller’ that takes a potentially entertaining concept and turns it into a clichéd, predictable and often lazy bore fest that is pure style over substance.
I am in absolutely no doubt that the cast enjoyed their all expenses paid holiday to Costa Rica, and maybe they hit the cocktails too hard every night or got sunstroke, because when the cameras are rolling they look like they are thinking about their next spell on the sun bed. Affleck and Arterton often lack charisma or presence, but in Runner Runner seem almost comatose, Affleck at one point thinking he is a bond baddie when he talks about how he keeps crocodiles. Timberlake is adequate but lacks any charisma, screen presence or depth to cut it as an apparently desperate leading man. The only one who seems to put any effort in is Anthony Mackie; he does ham it up as the FBI agent, but at least has a go.
Bad performances aside, the script does not help their cause, with clichéd and clunky dialogue stopping there from ever being any real character development. The man out his depth arc of Timberlake’s character is far from original, and the script makes no effort to make us actually root for someone who is quite frankly, as greedy and materialistic as the rest of them around him. Likewise the developments in the relationships between the characters are very poorly written, the fact they are for plot convenience is very obvious and they end up feeling contrived, unconvincing and painfully underwritten. Arterton suffers from that, as basically being the token love interest and a beautiful face to put on the poster, but then happy to change her allegiances quicker than you can say “the sun bed is free Gemma”, should the plot need her to. Likewise a subplot involving Richie’s dad may have been there to add emotional involvement in the protagonist, but once again it is so obvious it is there for the plot’s clichéd convenience.
As we enter the final third, plot developments are delivered with slick smugness, but never have the intelligence to justify it. Things are often patronisingly over explained by Timberlake, and he rarely uses that apparent brilliant brain of his, just resorts to very lazy and unoriginal methods that, without risking spoilers, require having a lot of money (and sheer luck). It is ultimately hard to root for any of these characters, they are all welcome to each other and spending 90 minutes with them is a thoroughly dull and forgettable experience.
Runner Runner has the slick and smug visuals, but with a clichéd and predictable story, flat script and comatose performances is not worth gambling your 90 minutes away for.