Silver Screen: Runner Runner *1/2
The new crime thriller Runner Runner gives us a chance to take an early look at the young actor who will take over the Batman role in 2015. Nerds reacted poorly online to news that Affleck would don the cowl, but fans are often skeptical about new talent before they have a chance to prove themselves onscreen. Runner Runner provides an excellent chance to get acquainted with the future Mister Wayne before he straps on his utility belt.
Or you could just Netflix Daredevil or any of Affleck’s other twenty-five starring roles.
I’m just trying to come up any possible reason why a person might want to see Runner Runner, a competent but wildly unnecessary crime drama that’s too slick to have any verisimilitude, too safe to be inventive or surprising, and too restrained to be lurid. (The movie does, however, inadvertently make a solid case that costar Justin Timberlake should play Robin.)
Runner Runner’s opening credits are transposed over a montage of news clips and talking heads spouting statistics that are supposed to convince us of the growing menace of online poker. The inconvenient fact that the online-poker industry was devastated by the regulations of the so-called Black Friday of April 15, 2011 doesn’t factor in-- this is a scourge that’s fleecing young men across the country! Screenwriters Brian Koppelman and David Levien also wrote Rounders, a pretty good movie about poker that coincided with a boom in the game. Runner Runner director Brad Furman is working twice as hard to convince the viewer about something half as significant as the poker trend of the early 2000s, and it comes across as a breathless, desperate pitch for the story’s relevance.
Timberlake stars as Richie Furst, a grad student at Princeton whose sob story is that his lucrative Wall Street money-grubbing job went up in flames because of the financial crisis, and now he might have to take out loans to finish his master’s program. This, I suppose, is the middle-class white-person version of Precious.
Richie’s boozy sage of a father (John Heard), a degenerate gambler, taught the kid cards, and eventually Richie winds up online trying to earn his tuition. When he loses everything during a marathon session, he becomes convinced he was cheated by the program and takes his complaint all the way to Costa Rica, to a lavish convention organized by online-gaming impresario Ivan Block (Affleck). Block is so impressed by the young man’s savvy and persistence that he offers Richie a lucrative position at the company, but soon a needlessly unfriendly police detective (Anthony Mackie) comes calling to tell Richie he has two options: rat out his corrupt boss, or go down with him.
There’s nothing terribly wrong with Runner Runner. Affleck is a decent villain. Timberlake is passable, although perhaps better suited to comedy. Heard is a great character actor, and Bond girl Gemma Arterton shows up mostly to add to the scenery, which is all tropical and nicely photographed. But, ironically enough for a movie about gambling, Runner Runner never takes a risk or does much of anything to distinguish itself-- a tricky proposition when you have a vague, unmemorable title that’s never explained in the film. (For the record, a runner runner is a hand, usually a straight, that can only be completed if both the turn and hole cards come up in your favor.) It would be destined to be forgotten if anyone in particular knew about it in the first place.
There is always the possibility that it gets a surge in popularity later if someone in the cast blows up. That Affleck kid is going places....
Follow Bryan Miller on Twitter@bmillercomedy.