Runner Runner

(2013) ** R
91 min. 20th Century Fox. Director: Brad Furman. Cast: Justin Timberlake, Ben Affleck, Gemma Arterton, John Heard, Anthony Mackie.

/content/films/4592/1.jpgOne thing you'll learn from the poker-themed thriller Runner Runner: the odds of hitting a "runner runner" flush (in Texas Hold 'Em) are "roughly four percent." Coincidentally, those are the same odds you'll be satisfied with your purchase of a ticket to Runner Runner.

Sadly, there's no actual running in Runner Runner, or anything else that might threaten to raise your pulse (with the possible exception of brief glimpses of the fleshy bits of Justin Timberlake and Gemma Arterton). On paper, Brad Furman's movie looks like a good investment: Furman's last movie, The Lincoln Lawyer, was a snappy mystery, and this one comes with a well-researched script by the same duo (Brian Koppleman and David Levien) who penned the 1998 sleeper Rounders.

That film, too, was set in the world of high-stakes poker—specifically, underground poker clubs—and starred Matt Damon. Runner Runner showcases Damon buddy Ben Affleck as Ivan Block, the amoral offshore proprietor of an online gambling site called "Midnight Black." Despite the sexy name, Midnight Black dabbles in racketeering, money laundering, and wire fraud, all while hustling a sweaty clientele that Block proudly notes can play poker in their underwear thanks to him.

Affleck's alpha-male villain is the shadow to Runner Runner's hero, Princeton graduate student Richie Furst (Timberlake). After being swindled out of his tuition money on Midnight Black, Richie boards a flight to "gambler's paradise" Costa Rica to infiltrate Block's outfit. Clever lad that he is, Richie has no trouble doing so and immediately becoming a cliche from a million moneyed thrillers.

Taken under Block's oily wing, Richie ponders all the Faustian temptations attendant to the $30 billion online-gambling business, from yachts and kept women to pride in a job well done (or what the semi-seductive Block calls "everything you ever thought you wanted when you were thirteen years old"). Even as he falls in with fellow employee Rebecca (Arterton)—who's Block's ex, natch—Richie must contend with a party pooper, FBI Agent Eric Shavers (Anthony Mackie), who wants to flip Richie and nail Block. Did I mention Richie's dad (John Heard) is a gambling addict?

Even at ninety-one minutes, the inaptly named Runner Runner plods, and any ensemble in which Affleck does the best acting can't be all that impressive. I kid the 'Fleck, but he does a creditable job of blocking this movie's old hat and wearing it well. The same can't be said for Timberlake, who usually seems, in movies, to be pining for the day he'll hit puberty.

Runner Runner does reveal some of the scams that have led online gambling into so much trouble with federal authorities, but more often than not your eyes will glaze over at the increasingly muddled details. A nonfiction account would be a lot more compelling than this faint echo of dozens of better movies.

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