DENNIS SCHWARTZ Movie Reviews

RUNNER RUNNER (director: Brad Furman; screenwriter: Brian Koppelman/David Levien; cinematographer: Mauro Fiore; editor: Jeff McEvoy; music: Christophe Beck; cast: Justin Timberlake (Richie Furst), Ben Affleck (Ivan Block), Gemma Arterton (Rebecca Shafran), Anthony Mackey (Shavers, FBI agent), Michael Esper (Billy 'Pet' Petricoff), John Heard (Harry Furst), Ben Schwartz (Craig), Yul Vazquez (Delegate Herrera), Bob Gunton (Dean Alex Monroe), Oliver Cooper (Andrew Cronin), Christian George (Wilson), James Molina (Esteban); Runtime: 91; MPAA Rating: R; producer: Eril Holmberg/Brad Weston; 20th Century Fox; 2013)

"Unremarkable Internet gambling thriller, where every move made is a losing one."

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Brad Furman ("The Lincoln Lawyer"/"The Take") directs this unremarkable Internet gambling thriller, where every move made is a losing one. Its mantra is "The House" always wins, which supposedly serves as a warning to gamblers about get rich quick schemes. Writers Brian Koppelman and David Levien (writers of the well-received "Rounders") foolishly bet that their flat script can be a winner, but end up with a seedy, inert and dreary amoral pic that is at best mediocre. Its title is derived from a poker subculture term, one that's hard to explain if not a gambler, which has the pic's protagonist cry out that he was cheated.

The brainy older Princeton financial grad student Richie Furst (Justin Timberlake), a former Wall Street player unable to get back on his feet after the 2008 financial debacle, now in his return to school hustles his fellow students by encouraging them to gamble on an on-line site he promotes to get commissions for recruits and then tries to pay his hefty tuition by playing a high-stakes online poker game on the same grifter website he's affiliated with that's owned by shady maverick computer gambling kingpin tycoon Ivan Block (Ben Affleck). Believing he lost because he was cheated, Richie goes to confront the sinister Ivan in his paradise-like Costa Rica (shot in Puerto Rico) headquarters and is coaxed into joining the con man's cutthroat business by promises of becoming filthy rich and living a privileged life. But that idyllic life has the bland Richie caught in dangerous places--between bribing an unscrupulous Costa Rican gaming officials (Yul Vazquez), being forcefully recruited by an over-reaching FBI agent (Anthony Mackie) to get the dirt on his boss or be sent to prison on trumped up charges and by the calculated machinations of his ruthless boss using him as a mark. The smarty-pants kid doesn't figure things out until it's almost too late and then works to turn the tables on his despicable mentor boss. Also part of the mix is a beautiful femme fatale, Rebecca (Gemma Arterton), the philandering girlfriend of both the boss and his mentor, and a weak subplot about our hero's dead-beat gambler dad (John Heard) never being there for him when he needed him and now the kid has to be there for dad or else.

The corruption tale about online offshore gambling never materializes as intended to logically connect us by parable with recent unregulated financial dealings, nor is its innocent-like grad student gambler convincing as an innocent, nor does its mumbo-jumbo explanations about online gambling enlighten us about gambling, nor is it a well-told tale. Furthermore the trite dialogue and the robotic acting are downers. In other words, it's a long-shot that many will like this film.

REVIEWED ON 10/4/2013       GRADE: C-

Dennis Schwartz: "Ozus' World Movie Reviews"

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