Do Ben Affleck and Justin Timberlake, who together should have enough cash to make Midas jealous, need a payday this badly?
That’s the only real mystery at the heart of Runner Runner, a dull, slow-jog of a thriller that’s less whodunit than why bother. Sure, the lush Puerto Rico setting (subbing for Costa Rica) is inviting and the Latin-inspired soundtrack is seductive, but that’s not enough to make up for this flat, uninspired crime story.
Timberlake is Richie Furst, an ambitious Princeton student who acts as an agent for an online gambling operation, convincing other students to sign up. Furst, a former Wall Street whiz whose fortune was destroyed in the 2008 financial collapse, needs the income from the site to pay his tuition.
The Princeton dean (Bob Gunton) isn’t too happy about this taking place in his hallowed halls and orders Furst to log off immediately and forever. Furst then goes for one last score, hoping to raise enough money to cover his tuition in a long night of binge poker.
He loses everything but in such a way that he figures it’s more than luck or skill to blame. He has been cheated by the operation he used to shill for and he’s determined to fly to Central America to confront the mysterious mogul who runs the site, Ivan Block (Affleck).
Block’s got it all: the women (including Gemma Arterton, Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters), the house, the boat, the stubble. And he’s apologetic about what happened to Furst, to the point of extending him a job offer. Come work for him and put those computer and card skills to good use and make big bank in the process.
Before you can say “if it sounds too good to be true...,” Furst is on the payroll. But then things start happening — being kidnapped by the FBI, getting beat up on the streets of San Jose, a friend disappearing. That gets Furst thinking two things: Maybe Block is not such a stand-up guy, and he has some nasty enemies. With Furst’s rose-colored glasses smashed, the movie becomes Team Justin vs. Team Ben.
All of this makes Runner Runner sound more exciting than it is. Directed by Brad Furman ( The Lincoln Lawyer) and written by the team of Brian Koppelman and David Levien ( Oceans 13, The Girlfriend Experience), Runner Runner plods from one plot point to the next until its dull end. There’s no tension, suspense or even one impressive action scene.
Affleck fares the best — he plays the obnoxious cad pretty well — and gets a couple of the best lines. But the appeal to Timberlake is unknown; you’d think after the 2011 misfire In Time, he’d at least read the script before saying yes.
Guys, next time you want a trip to Latin America, just use Expedia. You can afford it.
Cary Darling, 817 390-7517; Twitter @carydar