Runner Runner FightAP

Combining Justin Timberlake, Ben Affleck and online gambling may seem like easy money, but that doesn't necessarily make "Runner Runner" a sure thing. In fact, it's partly what makes the movie somewhat disappointing –- that director Brad Furman took the promising hand he was dealt and ended up with a mostly forgettable thriller.

Written by Brian Koppelman and David Levien (of "Rounders" fame), "Runner Runner" stars Timberlake as Richie Furst, a Princeton grad student who turns to online poker to help pay for tuition. But after a bad beat leads Richie to believe he's been cheated, he travels to Costa Rica to confront offshore gaming site mogul Ivan Block (Affleck). And while that doesn't exactly sound too bright for a Princeton man, Richie soon finds himself with a job at Block's site and a spot in his inner circle.

Still, there's a lot of questions raised by the gambling thriller –- like just what does "runner runner" mean anyway? (In poker terminology, it refers to a hand that was "improved significantly using the turn and river cards," or in other words, getting lucky.) As for who thought that would make a good movie title, well, some questions are a little harder to answer than others. When it comes to the biggest question of all, though -– should you go see "Runner Runner?" –- just follow this helpful guide to decide for yourself.

1. Are you capable of feeling bad for Justin Timberlake?
We're not talking about the multimillionaire singer/actor personally here, though that counts too. Because despite the movie's attempt to give him a sob story involving his deadbeat dad, one of the biggest issues in "Runner Runner" is that Richie simply isn't much of a sympathetic character, from the moment he starts complaining about not being able to afford his Masters in Finance from Princeton and having "no other choice" but to get involved with Block. Admittedly, "Runner Runner" would make for a much less interesting thriller if Richie attempted to solve this problem by taking out student loans rather than jetting off to Costa Rica, but when Timberlake's character is given multiple opportunities to just walk away, it's hard to feel too bad for what happens when he doesn't.

2. Would you like to see Ben Affleck pour chicken fat on a guy?
Granted, this one's something of a rhetorical question, because the answer is obviously "yes." And for all Richie's failings as a hero, Affleck's Block makes for one hell of a villain. Originally, it seemed odd that Affleck would do a movie like this after successfully reinventing himself as an Oscar-calibre director, until you realize what a blast he's clearly having playing a bored gambling magnate with a relentlessly foul mouth, a decent Spanish accent and a working crocodile farm.

3. Did you wish "Pain & Gain" had more Anthony Mackie?
If so, get ready to wish for more of him here too. As the all-bark-and-no-bite Agent Shavers, Mackie continues to show why he's such a promising up-and-coming actor. The clichéd FBI agent role could've just as easily been played by somebody adding up the paycheque in their head, but instead, much like Affleck, Mackie commits. And for all the energy and genuine enjoyment he brings to getting to screw with Timberlake's Richie, it would've been nice to see the movie use him more than just whenever they needed a lazy way to keep the plot moving.

4. Do you mind that the premise already feels slightly dated?
There's a definite risk with "trend" movies like "Runner Runner" –- "Rounders" hit at the perfect time back in 1998, helping launch the mainstream poker revival. But these days, offshore online gambling sites aren't in the news or public consciousness nearly as much as they were five years ago, especially not in light of recent pushes towards legalization in the U.S. Instead, clunky references to the recession and Ponzi schemes don't make "Runner Runner" feel timely as much as they feel like convenient buzzwords to plaster over plot holes.

5. Have you seen Brian Koppelman and David Levien's other movies?
Then you've seen "Runner Runner" too, which the duo seemingly wrote on the drive over to another pitch meeting. After movies like the aforementioned "Rounders" and "Ocean's Thirteen," the screenwriting pair have made a name for themselves writing high-stakes fantasy fulfillment packed with gambling and/or corruption. So while there's nothing particularly new or clever about all the double-crossing and back-room dealings going on in "Runner Runner," by the time you finally figure that out, somebody's already made off with your money.



6- Second Review: Runner Runner