Runner Runner

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Release: Friday, October 4, 2013

[Theater]

WRITTEN BY KEVIN HITE

Runner Runner is a film that was meant for gambling enthusiasts and ultimately appeals to. . .well, just about no one. The film, in fairness, was probably a good idea. The standard gambling film of the past few decades has concerned either basement-style high stakes poker (as in Rounders) or the glitzy scenes of Las Vegas card tables (as in 21). However, gambling in everyday life has shifted enormously in this span, and now concerns a consumer audience focused largely on Internet gaming.

Internet poker has been a major industry for well over a decade at this point, but the online gambling industry has shifted enormously in recent years, to the point at which online casinos now offer, in a sense, the fully experience. For example, the industry has progressed from crude online poker environments to the Intercasino format, which essentially consists of a full range of arcade and slot machine games, in addition to standard card options. These days, when we visit an Internet casino, we aren’t just looking for simulated poker — we’re looking for the full experience of Las Vegas, from the comforts of our own home. 

It’s this idea that Runner Runner attempts to play off of, not only via the scope of its fictional Internet casino, but through the weighty significance attached to its gambling risks. Richie Furst (Justin Timberlake) is not just an Ivy League online poker genius – he’s one who’s so thoroughly engaged with his hobby that he earns the attention of the scheming masterminds behind the websites. And when Furst feels that those same masterminds have ripped him off, he demands a meeting. 

From there, Runner Runner is essentially a slippery slope, from a gambling film looking to capture the modern culture of gaming, to a sort of crime thriller you don’t really see coming until it’s upon you. Furst burrows his way into trouble until he secures a meeting with Ivan Block (Ben Affleck), the yacht-toting criminal genius behind a sketchy online gaming empire who, you know, feeds his enemies to ravenous crocodiles and whatnot. 

Here the film makes a turn that’s actually somewhat interesting. Instead of fully denying that his site cheated Furst, Block invites a partnership, suggesting that Furst is too smart to walk away from the opportunity, and tempting him with the riches and glamorous lifestyle associated with running a crooked online gaming empire. This is where the real dilemma ensues: will Furst, a needy student in over his head but incredibly adept with numbers, strike it rich helping Block run his empire? Or will he ultimately cooperate with the FBI unit attempting to bring Block down? This is the question viewers are meant to ask throughout the second half of the film, and frankly it’s all abrupt and convoluted enough that we don’t really care what the answer is. 

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1-5Recommendation: There’s one, and only one reason to check out Runner Runner: if you’re buying into Ben Affleck’s career evolution over the better part of the last decade, go ahead and give it a look. The film is poorly conceived, devoid of substance in its attempt to be sexy, and ultimately just a bit dull. Furthermore, Timberlake delivers a disappointingly stale (for those who enjoyed him in The Social Network) performance that sort of sours the film, though it’s really more the script’s fault than his. But Affleck is a bright spot in the film, establishing himself delightfully as a dick-ish gaming titan who somehow manages to be exuberant and bored at once. 

Rated: R

Running Time: 91 minutes

Quoted: “Everyone gambles. They may call it something else, like the stock market, or real estate. But make no mistake, if you’re risking something, you’re gambling. And if you’re gambling, then I’m the guy you want to see.”

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Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.imdb.com