What do the 2012 Philadelphia Eagles, the 2012 USC Trojans, and the 2012-2013 Los Angeles Lakers have in common (Pauses for non sports fans to Google)? The answer: They were all teams with talented rosters and immense preseason hype. They are also teams that had a coach fired as a result. That’s because when a team has all of the pieces and everything seems fine on paper, the person who is supposed to put it together cohesively is always the first to take the bulk of the blame when expectations aren’t met. This, my good people, leads me into my review of Runner Runner.
The film has nothing to do with sports, unless you’re like ESPN and consider Poker a sport. It’s actually about a Princeton graduate student (Justin Timberlake) who gets hustled while gambling for college tuition on an online Poker site. He then heads to Costa Rica to meet with the man who runs the internet gaming empire (Ben Affleck) in order to ask for his money back. Pretty sound plan right? Somehow we’re supposed to believe that not only is this plan feasible for a college student who just gambled away all of his money, but that it can happen in a matter of days. Anywho… a half hour of clunky dialogue and rushed character exposition later, Affleck’s Ivan Block offers to make Timberlake’s Richie Furst his new protégé because he had the cojones to take initiative in solving his problem (A word of advice to my strapped for cash college grads… If someone runs an American trade from another country and offers you a job one day after meeting you, you might want to do some company research instead of accepting on the spot… especially when his company just finished scamming you for 17K).
Ignoring thousands of red flags, Furst takes the job and, of course, ends up in a world of violence, racketeering and corruption. Along the way he woos the boss’ girl (because that’s never a bad idea) and gets recruited by a feisty FBI agent. They’re played by Gemma Arterton and Anthony Mackey respectively. Both are fairly good at what they do on screen. She’s seductive. He’s loud, angry and funny. It works well enough.
The movie isn’t horrible… and neither were the aforementioned sports teams… but when a film with a loaded cast and a noble concept fails to hit its mark it just leaves a sour taste in your mouth or creates a void like the feeling you get when you got a small combo, but should’ve ordered a medium. Similar to when a Super Bowl contender goes 4-12, or when a preseason #1 college football team goes 7-6, or when a team with Kobe Bryant barely makes the playoffs… see what I did there.
Director Brad Furman (The Lincoln Lawyer) doesn’t seem to want to take his time to set things up. It’s as if there are several scenes missing that might’ve made everything gel more smoothly. Affleck is the film’s most saving grace. He provides the perfect amount of tongue and cheek wit, bravado with a dash of intimidation, and intelligence to pull off a solid mob boss-like character. It just goes to show you though… good actors plus good premise does not always equal memorable movie. Maybe it would’ve been better served as an HBO mini-series or something?
FINAL GRADE: C+