The biggest problem with the new thriller Runner Runner isn’t what’s onscreen, although the plot and the dialogue are often cringe-worthy. The great issue with the film is that we’ve seen all that it has to offer in countless other, better dramas before.
Like its repetitive title, Runner Runner offers up a bland retelling of a familiar story that lies in the shadow of smarter and sleeker films like The Firm.
The Firm, the 1993 Tom Cruise vehicle about a young lawyer who realizes that the employers that pay his bills are also psychotically corrupt, was a tight and nuanced film that kept the audience intrigued. On the other hand, this new drama plays its bland hand as carelessly as it can.
In the flick, Justin Timberlake plays Richie Furst, a Princeton student who pays his tuition by encouraging others to sign up for online gambling and through gambling himself. Early on, he loses his personal savings gambling himself at a multi-million dollar web site owned and operated by the sleek Ivan Block (Ben Affleck). Lacking subtly here, even Block’s name sounds villainous, as if his character just stepped off the plane from a James Bond flick.
Richie determines that he was cheated out of his savings–don’t ask about the details–but Richie knows he was robbed and (look, he has money now) quickly flies to Costa Rica to confront Ivan. Ivan realizes that Richie was correct, accepts his fault in the whole ordeal and takes Richie under his wing, setting up a huge rabbit hole that his young apprentice quickly finds himself falling into.
It turns out that the sleazy Ivan Block is a little sketchy, a fact that audiences realize moments after meeting him but that Richie doesn’t realize until halfway through the plot’s running time. Better late than never, I guess.
From there, Richie must subtly face off against his demented and powerful mentor. Along the way, we meet a cast of predictable characters who always pop up in similar films. There’s Richie’s vulnerable father named Harry (John Heard), who will inevitably be used as a pawn down the line. There’s Agent Shavers (Anthony Mackie), the detective whose warnings to Richie are ignored early on but later prove prescient. There’s also Rebecca Shafron (Gemma Arterton), the seductive woman who romances both of the two main characters and must ultimately choose between them. None of these characters are different or stand out from what we’ve seen before.
Like Baggage Claim, the bland romantic comedy that arrived in theaters last week, this new movie attempts to simply replicate its predecessors without adding anything to the story. The cast here is stronger than the one from that romantic comedy–Timberlake and Affleck have done a lot of solid work–but that doesn’t mean that this drama treads on any new ground.
Director Brad Furman impressed with his 2011 Matthew McConaughey vehicle The Lincoln Lawyer but this latest work offers none of the charm or wit of that.
Additionally, screenwriters David Levien and Brian Koppelman have impressed as well in movies like Rounders, their 1998 Matt Damon drama about gambling. Perhaps the writers simply wanted to roll the dice again with this but as with others playing the slots, perhaps they should have quit while they were ahead.