Sunday, November 10, 2013

Oh My Gosh . . . It’s Every Gambling Crime Movie Ever! Why Runner Runner Underperformed.

The Good: The acting is not terrible.
The Bad: Painfully predictable plot, Entirely unlikable characters
The Basics: Good direction and competent acting cannot save the droll and formulaic Runner Runner!

When it comes to genre movies, one of the film genres that has become so formulaic that it is surprising anyone bothers to make films in it anymore is the casino crime film. The story of the established casino owner who seduces the young man into the world of high stakes gambling before that young person exhibits a lust for their loved one, tries to take control of the company, and/or sells out to the government for protection from prosecution from all of the crimes associated with running a gambling empire has become old hat. The variations on the stories are few – the casinos are always run by cutthroat, corrupt individuals, there is always a person or object that is coveted and in most, there is a damsel that both the protagonist and antagonist have a relationship with. The twists are few and far between and the latest entry into the genre, Runner Runner, has even fewer twists than most in the genre; the subject is an online gambling empire.

Outside the setting – Costa Rica - Runner Runner is virtually identical to any number of casino crime dramas. The Justin Timberlake vehicle adds insult to injury by not giving its principles – Ben Affleck, Justin Timberlake and Gemma Arterton – anything especially compelling or different to do with their parts. Instead, they competently execute the script by Brian Koppelman and David Levien, but they do so listlessly, without anything distinctive in their performance to truly make them (or the film) shine.

Richie Furst is the big bookie at Princeton, having seemingly mastered online gambling to make decent money. Accused of gambling on campus and encouraging other students to get into online gambling, Furst is called in front of the Dean. The Dean demands that Furst stop the “marketing” he does for the online gambling company. To pay his tuition, Furst puts in his last $17,782 to play against a “sure thing” player who appears so bad he cannot possibly lose. When he does lose, he realizes it was a scam and he jets off to Costa Rica to confront Ivan Block, the man who runs the online gaming site. Watching how others at the Midnight Black conference strike out with Rebecca, Ivans’s assistant, Furst takes the direct approach to get into Ivan’s private party and he gets his evidence directly to Block.

Block offers Furst a job working for the company after explaining that the anomaly that cheated Furst was the result of a backdoor from some of the programmers. Furst takes the job and after three months, he has everything he wants in the world, except for Rebecca (who is more than just Ivan’s assistant). When Ivan assigns Furst to bring in a huge new client, Furst is abducted by Agent Shavers of the FBI, who tries to enlist him in helping build a government case against Ivan Block. Facing a felony prosecution in New Jersey, Furst confesses to Block immediately and Block is thrilled that Furst came to him. Furst meets with Shecky, who tries to leverage Block’s company for a bigger cut than they originally negotiated, so Furst returns to him with seduction and blackmail. Warned by Shecky that Block is in a tenuous position himself, Furst tries to escape the influence of both the U.S. government and Ivan Block.

My first big problem with Runner Runner is that everyone is dumb. I’m serious, everyone in Runner Runner is a moron and it’s ridiculous in this type of genre film that only the powerful villains are truly with it. Ivan Block is characterized as eager to be able to return to the United States, a character trait that is ridiculously dropped almost as fast as it is brought up, but he continues to run his business in a way that threatens the freedom he claims to be desperate to reclaim. Shecky is seduced in the most obvious and formulaic way imaginable, making it utterly inconceivable that he ever rose to the position of power that he did in the online gaming community (while still having his marriage intact). And then Furst does the exact same thing that he just extorted Shecky with! How stupid is that?!

So, none of the characters are particularly likable, which is a death knell for a film like Runner Runner because when the viewer does not care about how the character’s actions are resolved, they do not get invested. It is virtually impossible to invest emotionally in Runner Runner.

In fact, I can’t even muster up more enthusiasm to write about it. If you’ve never seen a casino thriller, Runner Runner might have something to offer you. Otherwise, there are at least ten better casino thrillers available to watch right now and all deserve your time and attention more than Runner Runner.

For other works with Gemma Arterton, please check out my reviews of:
Unfinished Song
Prince Of Persia: The Sands Of Time
Clash Of The Titans (2010)
Quantum Of Solace


For other film reviews, please check out my Movie Review Index Page for an organized listing!

© 2013 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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