Movies Without Pity
<I>Runner Runner</I>: Let the Chips Fall Where They May

If you are looking for something thought-provoking and original to see this weekend, your best option would probably be Gravity. But if you just want a fast-paced slick film with some fight scenes and a lot of shots of people pretty people gambling, then Runner Runner is for you.

Richie Furst (Justin Timberlake) is a Princeton man, working hard on his master's degree so he can get the big Wall Street payday that he needs to prove to himself that he's more than a degenerate gambler like his dad (John Heard). But tuition for an Ivy League school is expensive, so in order to make ends meet, he acts as a liaison between students and faculty and online gambling companies. Sort of a hands-off bookie. Given his affinity for marketing, he seems to be in the right job, until a dean catches wind of him running gambling on campus and threatens to kick him out. He has just a short amount of time to scrape together enough tuition to finish his degree before he quits his job, so he gambles. He puts all his money into a website owned by Ivan Block (Ben Affleck), but after a bit, he's broke and realizes that he's been cheated.

Instead of letting it go and finding another way to earn some income, he opts to head to Costa Rica where Block's operations are headquartered (conveniently off of U.S. soil). He uses his charm and connection as a gambling promoter to schmooze his way into a party -- it doesn't hurt that he caught the interest of Block's girl Friday Rebecca (Gemma Arterton). Once inside, he uses security cameras to get Block's attention and informs him that the algorithms are cheating people out of money. After investigating (what Block clearly already knew), Block offers him his tuition money to go quietly, or a dream job in Costa Rica bringing in seven figure salaries for helping Block make sure that "cheating" doesn't happen again.

Naturally Richie goes with option B and he's soon swept up in the fast-paced life of bribing public officials and winning over clients. But after having to do some shady negotiations with a potential client (Nashville's Sam Palladio) and getting abducted by FBI agent Shavers (Anthony Mackie), its clear to Richie that Block isn't all he's cracked up to be.

The rest of the film moves pretty quickly, from letting Affleck play the sort of rich lunatic that would feed whole turkeys to his pet alligators by way of threatening someone to chasing and fighting all over Costa Rica in a game of high stakes chess. Timberlake and Affleck work well together with Ben reminding us of his Boiler Room character (his pitch speech to Richie hits a remarkable amount of the same notes). Actually, if you liked Boiler Room, you'll probably enjoy the heck out of this film. It's all about the troubles with making a quick buck, done with a lot of flash and quick cutting, though we were hoping more for the next Rounders instead, especially given that screenwriters Brian Koppelman and David Levien were responsible for that great poker film.

Unfortunately, Runner Runner be filled with a lot of clich├ęd lines and could really have used a script that had a dash more originality. Or maybe ten more minutes to flesh out any of the relationships so that we'd actually get a chance to know the team of nerds that Furst brings on and care if they die. On the plus side, Affleck is wickedly great, Timberlake gets punched in the face a lot, Arterton wears exceptionally clingy clothing and Ben Schwartz is really funny for his brief time on screen. So you can take a gamble spending 12 bucks on this film, but the safe bet is to waiting until it lands on DVD or VOD.

Get showtimes and tickets for this movie from Fandango.

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