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film criticism by maryann johanson | since 1997

Runner Runner review: yawner yawner

Runner Runner red light Justin Timberlake Ben Affleck

Dull and perfunctory, this is a crime thriller that sets itself up as a revenge story but can’t manage to drum up any excitement or suspense, and precious little revenge, either.
I’m “biast” (pro): like Affleck and Timberlake

I’m “biast” (con): nothing

(what is this about? see my critic’s minifesto)

You may have heard that at some press screenings, we critics are required to hand over our smartphones to security people, who hold them in a location outside the actual theater, less we sneakily attempt to pirate the entire movie — or even merely key exciting scenes — and upload our blurry, shaky footage to YouTube and spoil the cinematic experience for the entire Internet. That fact that no pirated footage has ever come out of press screenings is no deterrent to this practice. And now, with Runner Runner, neither is the complete lack of juicy pirate-able footage.

(Public service message: Don’t pirate movies, kids. It’s not cool, and it brings down the avenging ghosts of Jack Warner and Mary Pickford on you.)

Badass aliens who want to steal our water in their mile-wide spaceships do not invade halfway through Runner Runner. There are no spectacular car chases featuring tanks and monster trucks and a godawful innocent-bystander body count. No sociopathic serial killer wipes out a sorority slumber party in inventively gruesome and gory ways. Mostly it’s just Justin Timberlake sitting at computers for a bit — not even pirateably naked or anything — and later he is vaguely menaced by Ben Affleck… with words only, except for some hints of threats of being fed to mostly offscreen crocodiles.

It didn’t have to be this way. This could have been a new Ocean’s Eleven (the cool Soderbergh one, that is), and in fact that’s what appears to be hinted at by the promising setup. Timberlake (Trouble with the Curve, In Time) is a student at Princeton, working on a masters in financial shenanigans — he was, we’re meant to understand, the sole guy on Wall Street in 2008 who was actually honest in his work, and so he lost all his dough in the crash. Which is why he is desperate to make some money now to pay his tuition. Which is why he gets suckered by the Ponzi scheme that is online gambling, losing every last cent playing poker when he should have, mathematically speaking, won a bundle. So he decides to go after billionaire scumbag Affleck (Argo, The Town) and his gambling Web site, FuckYouSuckers.com or something, and get his money back. This requires traveling to Costa Rica — the Caribbean is where all these gambling sites plunk down their physical operations, cuz it’s a legal Wild West down there… oh, and also it’s where the FBI, in the person of agent Anthony Mackie (Pain and Gain, Gangster Squad), has no jurisdiction and so also no rules for its operations. Which mostly seem to involve some hints of threats to Timberlake about never being able to work for a legit outfit like Caesar’s Palace if he doesn’t cooperate.

So, does Timberlake start planning an immensely clever takedown of Affleck and his empire? Not at all. He completely buys Affleck’s blaming of it all on unapprovedly unscrupulous underlings and takes a job with the guy! Which then requires that he do some more sitting in front of computers and then, finally, having to get beaten up by someone Affleck has pissed off before he catches on that his boss is not a decent or honest person. (If Timberlake’s character is this naive, maybe he did get suckered on Wall Street.) We just wanted to see Timberlake give Affleck what he had coming in a funny and perhaps ironic way. Runner Runner is only 90-something minutes long yet feels like it’s about three hours, there’s so little compelling happening for most of the runtime. Timberlake doesn’t even get to feed Affleck to the crocodiles!

It’s just all so… dull. Even the supposedly sexy sex as Timberlake steals Gemma Arterton (Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters, Song for Marion) from Affleck lacks all heat or spice, partly because she’s not even Affleck’s girlfriend or anything, just a business partner (though they clearly have a past), and so there’s nothing naughty or forbidden or revengey about it. But mostly because Who cares? Their “relationship” is as perfunctory and as sloppily by-the-numbers as everything else here.

I feel like maybe I need to get on a plane to Costa Rica — or, well, Hollywood — in order to make someone answer for cheating me so.

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Runner Runner (2013)
US/Can release: Oct 4 2013
UK/Ire release: Sep 27 2013

Flick Filosopher Real Rating: rated RSB: revenge served blah
MPAA: rated R for language and some sexual content
BBFC: rated 15 (contains strong language and sex)

viewed in 2D
viewed at a semipublic screening with an audience of critics and ordinary moviegoers

official site | IMDb | trailer
more reviews: Movie Review Query Engine | Rotten Tomatoes

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