Runner Runner Review: Don’t Believe The Hype, But It’s A Lie

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I won’t even begin to understand all of the HORRIBLE reviews Runner Runner has been getting. So I’ll just preface this review by telling you this: I don’t care anything about poker. Sure, I’ve played poker, even imagined that I could shut down a table in Vegas with my mad skills irrespective of how bad those mad skills are in reality. To me, poker’s just a way the cards fall. Don’t throw any strange terms at me and expect me to believe that you’re still speaking because you’re not. I’m not into crime movies, likewise dramas. So, I really have no idea how I ended up in this movie. But that being said,  I’ll tell you this: I loved Runner Runner.

Runner Runner stars Justin Timberlake as Richie Furst, a former Wall Streeter who finds his promisingly lucrative life suddenly blown to hell by Wall Street’s financial meltdown. Struggling to reassemble the tattered remains, Richie enrolls in Princeton. There’s just one problem: Princeton costs a lot. And a lot is far beyond Richie’s means. To fund his education, Richie turns to online gambling. But when Richie finds his entire savings taken at the hands of an internet cheater, it’s the last straw for an already pressed upon man.

Packing up his bags, Richie heads to Costa Rica to confront Ivan Block (Ben Affleck), the head of the online gambling industry. It’s a risky move, but as Richie knows with big risks comes big rewards and it’s not long before those rewards start rolling in for Richie, who finds himself second in command to this vast empire. Suddenly Richie’s future is looking brighter than he ever imagined. But when the gilded surface falls off to reveal the rotten core underneath and Richie sees firsthand the dangerous and immoral world he’s been drawn into. Will it be too late for him to get himself out? Is there really any escape?

Runner Runner is a fun movie. It has a bit of action, a bit of drama, with some comedy mixed in. Sure it doesn’t delve too deeply into any one of these things which sort of defies genre and is probably the reason for so many unhappy faces. It’s marketed as some sort of great gambler’s crime drama, but it’s definitely not. To be a crime drama, a film would have to at least venture heavily into the world of crime or be substantially more dramatic than this. To borrow a line from USA Network, it’s a world of “Blue Skies.” This is the prettiest, most non-damaging, optimistic look at the dark underbelly of the crime world. Really, if things were as rosy as this we’d all be visiting jails for the tea parties. Runner Runner just blushes over anything unseemly like a light foundation while offering just enough to keep the story going.

But I liked the story. And I’m not into crime movies or dramas. I don’t want to be depressed when I walk into a theater. I want to be entertained for a couple of hours – laugh, be uplifted, and then go home. And Runner Runner was just that. It’s paced well with likable characters all around. It’s totally satisfying to the average moviegoer. Justin Timberlake takes great control as Richie. He’s both sympathetic and endearing. Ben Affleck is commanding as Ivan Block, Richie’s boss turned enemy. Timberlake and Affleck are a great pairing as mentor and protégé, their chemistry is great and it’s nice to see them par with one another. I wish I could say the same about the chemistry between Timberlake and Gemma Arterton, Richie and Ivan’s shared loved interest. Timberlake’s Richie and Arterton’s Rebecca have no chemistry. Their relationship comes across as more of a safety net than anything which makes it an unreliable base to place a teacup on, yet alone the fate of this film. Contrarily, the tension between Arterton and Affleck is fierce and much more remarkable.

Aside from that, there are PLENTY of faults to be had with the movie. First off, Richie doesn’t start off as being particularly sympathetic. While he’s apparently smart and savvy enough to make it in Wall Street and then on to Princeton, he’s too foolish to know when he’s being hustled? Seriously? I am of the mind that people who are that level of naive should probably not put themselves into situations that exploit their naiveté. Richie falls prey to one of the most recognizable gaming scams that’s been in every pool hall, card table, and any negotiation where two people meet.

But Richie’s not naïve. And that’s the only shot you get to see of stupid Richie because in every other dealing he’s smooth, focused, intelligent, and determined. So what happened? Where’d that brain go before? Where was this drive and determination, this steady man with a plan, when you were hunched over your computer being taken for a fool? This seems like an unbelievable character flaw from which the movie never really recovers. It’s hard to reconcile the Stupid Richie from every other shot of him as this great and savvy negotiator. Thankfully though, aside from this blight, Richie is quite a remarkable guy. He holds his own as and if you manage to forget how we got here . But thankfully, every other shot of him is quite remarkable which helps to pull us along until you remember.

Saying all of this, I totally see why Runner Runner is getting such bad press. They promised a smart crime thriller and delivered a middle of the road light adventure. It’s a total betrayal of viewer expectation. This is no new trick when it comes to a movie’s marketing, but it’s always unfortunate to see. Because the people who love this type of film will miss out, and the people who want what this film pretends to be will be in the wrong theater. So, my word to you is just know what you’re getting. Runner Runner is a light adventure film; and a pretty good one at that. Any attempts to be different are simply misguided.

Image courtesy of Scott Garfield/20th Century Fox.

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