Some thrillers need more than a touch of style and an attractive cast; they need a substantial storyline. It’s not that Runner Runner doesn’t initially promise something meaty to bite on and the chance to watch it all play out in sunny Costa Rica, it’s just things fizzle out and become mediocre when we’ve soon had enough of the sun, sea and smart suits. The smart suits have been done before in Ocean’s films.
Co-lead Justin Timberlake desperately tries to get us hooked from the get go as aggrieved online gambler and Princeton post grad Richie Furst, robbed of his last pot of Wall Street cash on a compromised poker site he believes he has cracked. We do feel his pain (empathy even for a failed banker) and are ready and right behind him for the confrontation ahead with the site’s multi-millionaire owner, the illusive offshore entrepreneur Ivan Block.
However, one of the main reasons for the gradual waning interest in Runner Runner – part-incomprehensible gambling lingo aside – is the casting of another genuinely ‘nice guy’ of cinema, Ben Affleck as super thief Block. Affleck should stick to the directing day job or the honest/good guy roles because the leap of faith needed to believe he could be a sly, manipulative criminal mastermind is too massive, however approachable he paints Block to start with.
The Lincoln Lawyer director Brad Furman and producer Leonardo DiCaprio’s ‘dramatic thriller’ goes all Jason Bourne on us when things heat up, just to keep the thrill factor intact. In all fairness, Timberlake tries his hand at the action shots and makes for a commendable action-hero-on-the-run. Nevertheless, Furst needs more than a hand full of corrupt officials and Block henchmen to get past to keep things stimulating. Even the chance to wind things down for a second and bond with his hopeless gambling addict dad (played by a very puffy-looking and near unrecognisable John Heard) fails to produce anything memorable. Our attention falls on the balcony view Richie’s dad is so desperate to show off to him – and us. Again, this is when the writing/plot is clearly called into question.
Other nice factors – aside from sun, suits and glamour – include a sexy, sun-kissed Gemma Arterton as Block’s right-hand woman/’sex slave’ Rebecca Shafran. The character has the usual dose of sardonic wit and life experience to lure her man – like a Bond girl on heat – but is either too dumb or too greedy for the lifestyle to get out when she knows it’s all turning sour. Hence we feel very little for her when the chips are down. Indeed, she seems to need little convincing by Furst when the time comes to help him put his plan in action to bring down Block, being more than ready to deceive her ‘captor’ and curiously resisting taking both chumps to the cleaners.
To be kind, Runner Runner ticks all the boxes you’d expect for the genre, it’s just other dramatic thrillers with a gambling theme have been done before – and better. Remember 21 back in 2008? Trying to spin an intellectual side to it via the Princeton angle and yet another high-tech wall bank of computers cracking code with the resident geek/s is also becoming old hat. This film seems to be lazily relying on bringing in the box office cash solely on the cast and their image. It’s just a pity it doesn’t have more substance to win the house too.