By Mark Saldaña 

Rating: 3 (Out of 4 Stars)

After seeing a trailer for this movie, I suspected that the film would be a typical morality tale of the evils of greed and yes this is exactly the case. The plot and story have little to offer audiences in terms of originality.  Similar themes and plots can be found in movies like Wall Street and Boiler Room, where hungry, but intelligent, rookies soon become upstart superstars when taken in by evil and powerful business overlords. The initial part of the ride is a blast until the true nature of the business reveals its ugly head and the hero of the story faces a crucial turning point. That is essentially the same plot that Runner Runner has to offer. At this point, one may be asking why I gave this highly derivative movie such a generous rating of 3 stars. Despite the prosaic nature of the script, I still managed to find the characters and their somewhat predictable journey fun and entertaining.

It is true that the characters are the usual archetypes one would expect from this story, but the cast brings enough of their charming personalities to set them apart from others who have preceded them. Now do they outshine their predecessors? I would have to say definitely not. Still, even though there really is nothing remarkable about the screenplay by Brian Kopelmann and David Levien, the movie does make for a moderately thrilling and entertaining ninety one minutes.

Justin Timberlake portrays Richie Furst, an intelligent graduate student guilty of illegal online gambling at Princeton University. When he manages to lose his all of his tuition money to online poker games, he investigates into the matter and discovers that the gaming website cheats its players. Desperate to recover his losses, Furst travels to Costa Rica to meet the head of the company, Ivan Block (Ben Affleck). Impressed with Richie’s intelligence, Block recruits him and Richie soon embraces the more lavish and luxurious lifestyle of his dreams.   The fun times don’t last too long when the FBI begins harassing Richie for his assistance in bringing down Block. Things get worse when Block makes some highly questionable requests of Richie which may put his life in danger.

Director Brad Furman (The Lincoln Lawyer) does an adequate job with this film, but is just as unremarkable in his presentation as the script is. I can honestly say that I was never bored as I watched the film, but I can’t say that Furman’s work really thrilled me here either.  I wouldn’t go so far as to say that his directing in Runner Runner is bland, but it does leave something to be desired. The real flavor of the movie comes from the cast who all perform quite nicely.

The multi-talented Justin Timberlake takes on the role of Richie Furst and does it with an undeniable zest and fervor. He utilizes his natural charisma to emote the hunger that drives his character and his gift of gab to credibly convey the intelligence of Richie. I have to say that Ben Affleck performed well as the charming, but slick and corrupt Ivan Block. I do fault the writing for not giving this villain enough dimension, making him another typical bad guy. However, despite the limitations of the writing, Affleck pulls it off. The lovely and sexy Gemma Arterton plays Rebeca Shafran, another character with limited dimension, but one that oozes slinky sensuality.

It is mainly the talents and charms of the cast members that won me over. Otherwise, the movie comes close to being a carbon copy of other, better movies with similar plots. This is one movie I would recommend skipping in theaters and waiting for its video release. It’s not a complete waste of time, but it doesn’t deserve ticket price money.

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