Everything is a gamble according to Justin Timberlake’s online poker whizz Richie Furst in Runner Runner – a philosophy that eludes this safely derivative, risk-averse script.
Directed by The Lincoln Lawyer’s Brad Furman, the plot centres around Furst’s descent into the corrupt world of Ivan Block (Ben Affleck), an online gambling “wizard of Oz” whose site – hosted in Costa Rica – initially cheats the Princeton student out of his tuition money.
The gifted Furst, having cockily flown to confront Block personally, ends up becoming the kingpin’s protégé; a relationship soon complicated by the affections of Block’s lover Rebecca (Gemma Arterton), a determined FBI agent (Anthony Mackie) and the increasingly morally dubious nature of Furst’s work.
Despite Furman’s competent handling, it’s a story that follows a fairly simple, unsurprising arc that never really gives the earnest Timberlake or villainous Affleck any chance to show off what they can do, with their friendship and eventual animosity given few scenes of depth to really develop.
This is also true of Furst and Rebecca: a character whose only purpose appears to be a default love interest in Runner Runner’s macho fantasy of casino crime and corruption. With no character-driven substance to cling on to, you’re left relying on narrative thrills and spills – of which there are few.
Despite being set against the potentially novel – but completely wasted – backdrop of the online poker industry, Runner Runner fails to offer anything new or imaginative by its disastrously dull denouement. Stuck between Block’s betrayal and the prospect of prison, it’s Furst’s chance to show us why, exactly, he’s such a gambling genius in the first place.
His plan, however, is no film-saving act of risk and cleverness, but to merely pay off the right people. “This isn’t poker,” he defends, “this is my life.” What a shame that is.
Justin Timberlake and Ben Affleck give their best poker faces but ultimately fail to convince you to gamble your cash away on this limp, unoriginal story of a man out of his depth.