By David Watson

Aging Princeton student Richie (Justin Trousersnake) used to be an up-and-comer on Wall Street until 2008’s worldwide financial implosion lost him his career, and all his money, forcing him to pay his way through Uni by hustling his fellow students and professors for an offshore online poker site. But, wouldn’t you know it, those stuffy old Ivy League colleges are real fuddy duddy’s when it comes to gambling and ripping off your colleagues and the boring old dean (Boo!) forces him to shut up shop. Faced with being kicked out of college if he can’t raise $60 grand sharpish, Richie gambles his life savings playing poker online and, just as victory’s in sight, he’s royally fleeced and loses everything.

When a handy computer geek buddy gives him evidence that he was cheated, Richie doesn’t go to the authorities or expose the cheaters online, no sir, he jumps on the next plane to Costa Rica where he confronts online betting kingpin Ivan Block (Ben Affleck) who, impressed by the kid’s chutzpah, offers him a job. But as Richie climbs the ladder acquiring fast cars, loadsamoney and the boss’s main squeeze Rebecca (Gemma Arterton), he attracts the attention of a borderline psychotic FBI agent (Anthony Mackie) and starts to suspect that maybe Ivan, who seems to be paying off even the local Lollipop Lady and keeps a float of ravenous crocodiles as pets whom he feeds chickens to in the middle of the night, may not be quite the respectable businessman he claims to be…

Movies about gambling are rarely much cop. From Bob le flambeur to The Cincinnati Kid, Maverick to Rounders, with the possible exception of Rain Man and The Sting, watching a couple of guys sit around playing cards just isn’t that exciting, it’s not much fun. As boring as that is though it’s still a darn sight more fun than watching a movie about online gambling which replaces a bunch of shady dudes sitting around playing cards in a dimly lit room to one guy, sitting around in his pants in front of his laptop, playing Texas Hold ‘Em with an unseen fat bird in Ohio. Or Justin Timberlake explaining maths algorithms in the style of a bemused puppy that’s just been shown a card trick. Which is probably why Brad Furman has set his pedestrian anti-thriller in the Third World paradise/toilet of Costa Rica which, judging by the evidence on show, is a land of hot and cold running hookers and corrupt, easily bought public servants. Seriously, practically every woman, everybody, in the film is a whore. Even Gemma Arterton’s poised gambling executive seems to have her price, initially duplicitously boffing JT on Bat-ffleck’s orders. I don’t know what kind of upbringing Furman’s had but he has some serious trust issues with regard to women and intimacy he should probably address.

Daringly, Furman has concocted a thriller that lacks thrills, any sense of jeopardy or any vaguely relatable characters with only Affleck’s bored, homesick bad guy proving even remotely sympathetic. Timberlake, who can sing and dance a bit and, judging by his frequent SNL appearances, is a decent light comedian still hasn’t learned to act and is a yawning vacuum at the centre of the film, content to merely reprise his self-serving turn from The Social Network. A former Wall Street broker who hustles everyone around him, cynically exploits an opportunity to dive into the world of online gambling and make a fortune before stealing his boss’ girl and snitching him to the po-po, his character’s not exactly likable and casting him as a gambling maths genius may be one of the most ludicrous pieces of casting since dear Kenny Branagh stuck Keanu Reeves in Much Ado About Nothing as the villainous Don John. Or that time Barbra Streisand (BARBRA FREAKING STREISAND!) got cast as a beautiful $1000-a-night call girl in Nuts. Or Madonna being cast as a human being in, well, anything. And just what is the deal with him still being at university? Was he in the slow-reading group? Playing a girlfriend role that’s more a convenient last act plot device and lacking any discernible sizzle with Timberlake, the wonderful and hugely talented Gemma Arterton really should sort out a new Hollywood agent as she’s given nothing to do and looks a little like a sunburnt Home Counties girl on an 18-30 to Shagaluf and while Affleck is the best thing in the film it’s hard to tell if his world-weary air is part of the character or reflects his own feelings about appearing in dreck like Runner Runner.

Tedious, predictable and wholly unsatisfying, Runner Runner barely even bothers to jog.

VERDICT: [rating=2]




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