Runner Runner is by the numbers

Ben Affleck and Justin Timberlake star in a thriller that sticks to the formula and flops.

Everyone gambles.

If you happen to be a Princeton guy, then Richie Furst (Justin Timberlake) is the guy you wanna see. He’s an affiliate (read: shill) for the Midnight Black online casino, referring interested parties to the site for commission. Think of him as a professional enabler. Business is good, but not good enough to pay the $60k for next semester’s tuition. It gets worse when some rich jagoff’s kid craps out and the dean gets a call. Now the dean, he’s a nice guy, he can let bygones be bygones, so long as Richie closes up shop and stops promoting gambling at his university.

Richie knows that, at Princeton, you’re either bred for it or you bleed for it. So he dumps his savings into his own Midnight Black account and goes to work. Things are going well until, well … until they’re not. He’s hemorrhaging money on hands he should be winning and soon it’s all gone. Only thing left to do is fly down to Costa Rica and confront Ivan Block (Ben Affleck), the site’s shady owner who’s not on such good terms with the U.S. government. Great plan, right?

Well it works; Richie gets into Block’s private party — complete with women, a Ferris wheel and Deadmau5 — courtesy of gatekeeper Rebecca (Gemma Arteron). Not only does he get his money back, he gets a job. Soon he’s living large and everything’s going smoothly, right? What will become of Richie when he starts to turn into his scumbag boss and the feds start putting the screws to him?

After a rather meticulous setup, Runner Runner get’s dumb and dumber. It’s far from inspiring — except for inspiring you to look up what a runner runner hand actually is in the poker world — and nowhere near the sum of its parts. Intrigue leads to predictability, which in turn rigidly follows the standard formula for thriller fare.

You’d expect better from the guy who directed The Lincoln Lawyer and the writing team that brought us Rounders and Ocean’s 13. Then again, co-writers Brian Koppelman and David Trevien also penned Walking Tall and Knockaround Guys. The point is their successes show us this pair can get it right; this just wasn’t one of those projects. The intrigue is muddled, the wisecracks are meager and the lack of denouement is maddening.

The movie is not without a couple of bright points, namely Anthony Mackie and Gemma Arteron. Mackie has a good turn as the FBI’s hard-nosed Agent Shavers; his performance gives me hope for his role as Sam Wilson/The Falcon in the upcoming Captain America: Winter Soldier. I’ve been dying for more of Arteron ever since her role as Agent Strawberry Fields in Quantum of Solace but couldn’t bring myself to see Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time or Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters. She brings some mystery to the coy and beautiful Rebecca. Affleck and Timberlake? Meh. Like the writers, they showed up, did their jobs without any remarkable contributions and went home.

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