When financial whiz-kid Richie (Justin Timberlake) seeks to pay off his tuition fees through online gambling, he discovers a whole other world of sleaze, money and girls on the island paradise of Costa Rica. But his dealings with kingpin Ivan Block (Ben Affleck) soon sour the holiday.
The heart of Runner Runner’s problem is with the plot; gambling to pay off college tuition is a novel idea but narrative gaps and little explanation for characters’ actions truly ruin the fun. Richie appears to jump at Costa Rican crime bosses with little consideration of the alternatives, making it feel like the film is excitably ushering the audience down its predictable, linear path. Richie’s fractured relationship with his father is nowhere near developed enough to give the second half of the film any sense of urgency, by which time any reasonable person will see where things are headed. In addition, meaty topics of gambling addiction and Wall Street hedonism are touched upon but left disappointingly undeveloped.
Whilst Timberlake can be excellent in supporting roles (see The Social Network) he simply can’t shoulder an entire picture alone, a problem compounded by the conspicuous lack of an Aaron Sorkin script. Affleck does what he can with the clunky dialogue, but his role is made more Bond-villain than serious sociopath. An execution scene that should be highly disturbing lands with a thud after four minutes of Affleck exposition.
Unfortunately, it’s Gemma Arterton who comes off worst. Completing the Affleck-Timberlake love triangle she is portrayed as little more than eye candy, along with every single other woman in the film one should add. In fact, Anthony Mackie’s twisted FBI agent provides the most engaging scenes of the film, it’s just a pity there aren’t more of them.
Director Brad Furman makes some use of the beautiful Costa Rica and shots are occasionally very striking, though never poignant. Wide shots of parties and beaches call to mind sun-drenched Los Angeles in Furman’s far superior The Lincoln Lawyer, but here they carry far less weight in terms of visually encapsulating a place’s corruption and disease.
Subdued dubstep forms the majority of the soundtrack, working well at certain moments but again reminding us of the infinitely better Trent Renznor score accompanying Timberlake’s turn as Sean Parker in 2010.
An interesting premise and sporadically pretty cinematography cannot save this poorly acted, poorly written picture with a slapdash plot to boot. Fold.