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Bad Luck of the Draw for “Runner, Runner”

Kevin Noonan | Monday, November 4, 2013

Any film starring Ben Affleck and Justin Timberlake, whose films in the last three years have combined for roughly $660 million at the box office as well as 16 Oscar nominations and six wins, would be a safe bet, one might think. Critical and financial success aside, Affleck and Timberlake are both media darlings with long, storied careers that makes it seem like no matter what they do, they’re playing with house money.

So when 20th Century Fox decided to roll the dice and bankroll “Runner, Runner” from writing team Brian Koppelman and David Levien, who hit the jackpot on their first film, “Rounders,” in 1998, but have been mostly just grinding out average projects since, it sounded like a good play.

But even though Fox and the team of producers that includes Hollywood ace Leonardo DiCaprio went all in on the usually reliable pair of stars, they never should’ve anteed up – ¾”Runner, Runner” is a bust from start to finish.

Timberlake plays Richie Furst, a Princeton grad student trying to grind his way through school, paying his bills by acting as a recruiter of sorts for an online gambling site. But when a fellow student outs his racket to the dean, Richie is forced to go for broke in Internet gambling in order to stay in school.

Unfortunately for him though, Internet gambling isn’t the most reputable service in the world, and Richie finds himself down to the felt after being cheated out of his money.

He decides to bluff his way into a Costa Rican party hosted by the king of internet gambling, Ivan Block, played by Affleck. Block plays his cards close to his chest when Richie finally goes heads up with him about being cheated out of his money but the next day offers Richie a job as a sort of jack of all trades for his gambling website.

Next thing you know, Richie is in a river of money. He starts to see, though, that if he stays employed with block, an FBI investigation may be in the cards.

Richie decides to sneak a few cards up his sleeve before Ivan can run the table on him and leave his as the fall man for his illegal activity.

When Block finally puts his cards on the table and tries to leave Richie in Costa Rica, flush with a host of FBI agents on his trail, Richie doesn’t miss a trick and unveils his ace in the hole; Rebecca Shafran (Gemma Arterton), the Queen of Block’s organization, is in love with Richie, not Block. Richie makes a deal with the FBI to inform on Block, but hedges his bets by fleeing the country anyways and letting the chips fall where they may.

All in all, this is a really, really bad movie. Affleck is admirable in his role as an egomaniac gambling magnate, but Timberlake is an uninteresting flop as a graduate student with a raw deal. A lot of the story doesn’t make sense, there’s no real insight into the world of online gamblin, and the Costa Rican setting somehow manages to be blander than the scenes shot on Princeton’s campus.

With how many things have to go right beyond just the script and the acting in order for a movie to be successful, it must be like Russian roulette sometimes for actors when choosing projects. Hopefully this was just a bad turn for the two stars, who have both established themselves as respectable actors with an eye for good projects in the last few years.

But as for “Runner, Runner,” hedge your bets and sit this one out, because in terms of good gambling movies, it’s no dice.                                   

Contact Kevin Noonan at knoonan2@nd.edu