Justin Timberlake is the best well-rounded entertainer in the world. Love him or hate him, he's the closest thing to this generation's version of Michael Jackson. Odds are, you have some kind of firm opinion of his music, and regardless of that opinion he's still a massive moneymaking machine. His fans are loyal and no doubt enthusiastic about his recent return to music, but the gap between his albums is due largely to his ambition to become a serious actor. Even though Timberlake is no Jamie Foxx, he's still a relatively accomplished actor - starring several memorable roles, including The Social Network, Friends with Benefits, and In Time. Obvious, some of his films are better than others, but he still appears to improve from role to role, forcing many people to wonder if his future is in movies or music. In any event, Timberlake is back with yet another flick, starring opposite Ben Affleck, in the drama, Runner Runner.
Directed by Brad Furman (The Lincoln Lawyer), Runner Runner stars Justin Timberlake as Richie Furst, a bright young Princeton student that turns to online gaming to help pay the bills for his expensive tuition. In the process of attempting to win money in an online poker game, he discovers he's being cheated by one of the world's most lucrative gambling websites. Furst makes his way to Costa Rica, where the site's owner, Ivan Block (Ben Affleck), runs the site. Impressed with his ambition, Block hires Furst to bring in new clientele and make some serious money. However, Furst is quickly approached by an FBI agent named Shavers (Anthony Mackie), telling him that if he continues down a dark path of working for Block, he will be banned from returning to the United States. And, to make matters worse, Block appears to have a hidden agenda and secret plans of his own for Furst. Gemma Arterton and John Heard also star in supporting roles.
To be honest, Runner Runner is not a bad film - it's simply an outdated film that would have been far more successful if it was released in the 1990s. This film features a plot that is so painfully repetitive that not even George Clooney, Brad Pitt, or Robert Downey Jr. could save it from a trajectory of failure. Easily comparable to films like Paranoia, 21, and Rounders, Runner Runner's plot can't be considered as anything other than generic. Very little about this story is fresh, and it suffers mightily from the same predictability of similar films - which is perfectly evident with the recent release of Paranoia, which was unsurprisingly ignored by moviegoers. The plot goes something like this... A blurry-eyed main character sees the forbidden fruit dangling from a tree branch, grabs it, and takes a bit - unaware that it's nothing more than poison. Quickly, the character realizes he's a puppet in someone else's "game," and must do their bidding until he's able to figure a way out of a dire predicament.
Sadly, this is far from Justin Timberlake's best work. He portrays a smart guy from Princeton that basically has all the necessary tools an individual needs to be successful, but instead, he is easily fooled and essentially bought off with the promise of fortune. In a perfect world, Timberlake's character would have most likely taken his knowledge of fraud to the police, which would have given him 15 minutes of fame, followed by all sorts of potential employment opportunities. However, his character takes a patsy's job working for a blacklisted man of stature - who basically only has days until he's busted by some sort of law enforcement division. As they say, "there's a sucker born every minute," and in this particular case, it's Timberlake's character, not to mention Justin Timberlake himself for taking such a two dimensional role.
While Timberlake flounders about with a poorly constructed character, Ben Affleck easily outshines his co-star, playing the calculating villain, Ivan Block. Affleck's character is just about as interesting as Timberlake's, but at least Affleck gives this film a bit of mystery and class. To say Affleck is a pleasure to watch is a bit redundant at this point, but it's impossible not to appreciate his impressive run in acting - which does also include his role in Runner Runner. His recent work in Argo and The Town has been some of the most enjoyable roles of his career, and unless you live under a rock - you've probably heard he's going to be the next Batman. Still, Affleck is a bit of an ambitious choice for a playboy villain, but he's surprising effective in this role, which should give some doubters a great deal of hope for his potential as playboy billionaire, Bruce Wayne. Regardless, it's absolutely no surprise that Affleck owns this film, and as well he should. He's an acclaimed actor in a role that he's probably too miniscule for him at this point in his career.
Overall, Runner Runner simply suffers from the over abuse of a tired story. The characters could have used an overhaul to at least make them appear a bit more compelling, but in the end, there's nothing about this film that isn't offered by network television. Justin Timberlake should have stayed in the music studio instead of taking this role, while Ben Affleck shortchanged himself by playing second fiddle to a former member of `N SYNC. However, despite the enormous shortcomings, this lackluster thriller (which forgot to bring the thrills) manages to pass as an acceptable means of entertainment - clocking in at a mere 90 minutes. For Timberlake or Affleck fans, this film will be acceptable, but for anyone looking for a meaningful plot or ambitious film, feel free to wait until you've exhausted your choices to watch this expendable feature.