Film Review – Runner Runner
Coming out of CinemaCon this year, I had hope for the crime thriller Runner Runner. Director Brad Furman was coming off the underrated movie The Lincoln Lawyer. One of the co-stars, Ben Affleck, had just directed the Best Picture-winning Argo, and had in the process helped achieve a career resurgence as an actor. And the other co-star, Justin Timberlake, has been an underrated actor for a long time, with a history of choosing bad projects (The Love Guru, In Time), but shining when given the chance (The Social Network). Everything seemed on the right track…and then the waiting game began.
Runner Runner is the story of former financial analyst Richie Furst (Timberlake), who goes back to school after the financial meltdown. Attempting to make his tuition, he loses all his money playing computer poker. When he discovers he was cheated, he heads to Costa Rica to confront the website’s owner, Ivan Block (Affleck), and get his money back.
Honestly, I had pretty much forgotten about this movie until about a month ago when they started to pick up on the advertising for it. Fear seeped in…it began to look like a generic thriller in the same vein as Training Day or Boiler Room (which, amusingly, featured the previously mentioned Affleck in a similar-feeling role). With big hopes and great fears, I entered the screening, but as the movie ended, I couldn’t help but think to myself: all your fears were true. Sure, Ben Affleck was engaging at times, and sure, Justin Timberlake definitely has charisma and an “it” factor. But no matter how strong their performances are, it is tough to raise the caliber of a movie when the source material is so uninspired.
Runner Runner does raise an interesting question, though. In our modern times, we crave original entertainment, we lament the continuous string of sequels and re-makes that Hollywood pushes out every year, and then comes something like this, which technically falls into neither category. On one hand, it is an original property—it isn’t a remake or a sequel. On the other, re-hashing old tropes in a slightly different fashion really doesn’t seem to constitute originality. This is a shame, since that was part of what made Brad Furman’s work on The Lincoln Lawyer engaging; he took a familiar plot device and brought something fresh to it. Everything was set up for him to succeed here; he could hardly ask for more when working on the project than having Timberlake and Affleck as well as supporting work from Gemma Arterton, Anthony Mackie, and John Heard. The only thing he didn’t seem to have was a functional script.
The most obvious suspects to blame are writers Brian Koppelman and David Levien, known for their previous work on projects like Ocean’s Thirteen and Walking Tall. They aren’t without some successes, having worked on Solitary Man and, amusingly, Rounders, which has a lot of parallels with this movie—so many that the writers are just rehashing themselves. They took a clichéd premise and phoned in every twist in the most predictable manner. I am quite certain most regular cinema-goers will be able to see where this movie is going from the onset. Affleck isn’t who he seems? Shocker. Timberlake is put between a rock and a hard place and needs to figure a way out? Surprise. The mystery behind how this run of the mill script got this many important people involved is more fascinating than the film itself. It also doesn’t explain why Brad Furman was able to raise up The Lincoln Lawyer but not this, or how Affleck, an experienced filmmaker himself, did not see this mess coming.
The only real redeeming qualities of the movie come from Justin Timberlake and Ben Affleck. Timberlake has charisma and leading man potential, but either he doesn’t get good starring opportunities or he doesn’t do a good job of picking them. For whatever reason, his supporting roles tend to be much stronger—I’m curious to see him in Inside Llewyn Davis, as hopefully that film makes good use of his talent. I would think Ben Affleck would be the perfect guy to tell Timberlake that you can’t just rely on your charisma in Hollywood—he learned that the hard way. However, for the life of me, I can’t understand why Affleck wanted to make this movie. His star has been rising again in Hollywood in recent years; he is an in-demand director and was once able to make a clichéd premise into an entertaining movie (The Town). It gives me pause over of his praise of the Batman vs. Superman script—if he thought this was good, what does it say about the potential there? Not only that, but he has played this character before; this is just an expanded variant of his role in Boiler Room. I liked that role, so I’m not going to complain about it too much, but it worked better as a small role than having an entire film dedicated to it.
This is one of those sad cases where hopes couldn’t have been further from reality. The film is executed fine, but is such a generic retreading that it’s hard to muster any enthusiasm. That imperceptibly small portion of people who have never seen a thriller will probably enjoy it. The rest of us are fine waiting for it on video or even someday on cable…and probably better off just firing up a favorite thriller and rewatching that. Die hard Timberlake and Affleck fans, feel free to proceed at your own risk—but know they can, and have, done better.[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=itwjrzSJ3V8&w=560&h=315]