Though rarely uneventful, “Runner Runner” is devoid of the flair of excelling in anything specific. The acting is adequate, the plot is intelligent, and the pacing is succinct. But with no unexpected twists or shocking character revelations, the presentation is merely average and the thrill of the protagonist’s efforts to escape his cunning employer’s entrapment becomes not only predictable but also teeters dangerously close to mundane. Nothing sets the adventure apart from the rest of its ilk. For a film boasting exotic locales, duplicitous women, mass corruption, and gambling with people’s lives, “Runner Runner” offers frippery to dwell on.
When Princeton gambling wiz Richie Furst (Justin Timberlake) loses his tuition on prominent poker website Midnight Black, he knows he’s been swindled. In a desperate bid to reclaim his money, Richie flies to Costa Rica to confront the website’s owner, Ivan Block (Ben Affleck), with proof of the tycoon’s fraudulent dealings. Impressed with Richie’s audacity, Black offers him a job. The flashy parties and sultry vixens that pervade the billionaire’s world quickly and understandably entrance the ambitious youth. But as Richie sinks deeper into the seductive lifestyle of extreme wealth, he becomes ensnared in a cutthroat game of treachery and deceit, where everyone has a price and the stakes are life and death.
“Runner Runner” is a staggeringly mediocre film. It relates a comprehensible, modest tale of a reckless man engaging in questionable activities with clearly shady people to break ahead. What it lacks is intensity, anticipation, and any sense of fearfulness for the antihero. He’s continually out of his element, but never seems to be in any real danger. As the film draws to a close, he’s given a fleeting moment of intellectual superiority – but it’s spontaneously contrived, revealing a dismissal of crafty preplanning. His ultimate contingency avenue is haphazardly forged in the last fifteen minutes, preventing audiences from celebrating his riveting perception. Instead of unveiling a percolating brilliancy developed from the start, Richie luckily wizens up in time for a satisfying but unexceptional finale.
The movie surprisingly has little to do with online poker and gambling. There are no nail-biting moments in which players pray for the right card or roll dice in slow motion. “Runner Runner” prefers to examine the underbelly of the $30 billion enterprise – the prostitution, the corruption, the abusive FBI agents that sink to the levels of the heavily bribed, threatening Costa Rican officials, the degenerate forms of entertainment, and the glamorousness of outrageously lavish parties that oodles of stolen money can inspire. The various levels of manipulation are intermittently amusing, with blackmail, offshore banking, a femme fatale, and digital thievery regulating the swift runtime, but real thrills are routinely elusive. The potential was certainly present but the execution forsakes cinematic consequence.
– The Massie Twins (GoneWithTheTwins.com)