Runner Runner is a winder grinder
Starring Justin Timberlake, Gemma Arterton, and Ben Affleck. Rated 14A.
Richie (Justin Timberlake) idolizes Ivan but fears him too. Ivan (Ben Affleck) is confident and handsome but cold and unfeeling. Gentle, smart Richie keeps getting hurt, but why does he stay? And what drew him to the menacing Ivan in the first place?
If the answer had been “for the hot sex”, the twisted mentor-student relationship in Runner Runner would have made emotional sense, as well as possibly crashing the Internet.
Alas, it is only about wealth. Richie is a university student who loses his tuition playing online poker and who flies to Costa Rica to confront the zillionaire site owner with proof that the game was rigged. Ivan, apparently touched by the youngster’s gallant refusal to trouble the police, brings Richie into his online kingdom (which has real-world palatial trappings).
Things go well, for a while. And when they don’t, because the police are making trouble… Well, the trailer has given away Ivan’s crocodile collection.
From here, the plot grinds more or less automatically to its conclusion. Unfortunately, I was not particularly captivated by the suspense elements; given that professional gamblers earn massive profits from an activity that is semi-random and provides neither goods nor services, it is no great concern of mine whether they wind up as winner, jailbird, or crocodile poop.
Director Brad Furman (The Lincoln Lawyer) captures some terrific views of scenic Costa Rica and of the even more scenic costar Gemma Arterton, who plays Ivan’s girlfriend and business partner. Some of this visual lustre is marred, however, by the overuse—which is to say, the use—of shaky-cam footage.
Runner Runner does offer the considerable charms of two actors thoroughly enjoying their roles. Affleck has the fun, showy villain part with plenty of insider jargon, and he’s a convincing badass. (Batman will be in good hands!) Timberlake has the harder role, giving us the callow underling driven by insecurity, poverty, and fear; given that, in real life, he is Justin Timberlake, he’s actually kind of incredible.