In 2000, Ben Affleck starred in the thriller "Boiler Room." The film was about a newbie employee who gets a job at an investment firm that turns out to be selling fake stocks. It’s not long before the F.B.I. comes asking for his help in their investigation into the firm. If you’re going to copy the script from a film, it’s best not to use a little seen, mostly forgotten one like "Boiler Room." Over a decade later, the new thriller "Runner Runner" is a surface-deep film that tries too hard and ends up failing too much.
This time around, Justin Timberlake plays the horribly named newbie Richie Furst (pronounced First), who weasels his way into the inner circle of Ivan Block, an Internet gambling czar, after being cheated out of $50,000. At first, Block gives Richie everything he could dream of having and possibly more. But like most dreams, things quickly into a nightmare as the F.B.I. force him to try to turn over evidence against his boss.
Despite this paper-thin plot, filled with more than a handful of clichés, an unnecessary voiceover is included throughout the film. Looking to offer deep thoughts, it just comes off as silly with its faux insights. Screenwriters Brian Koppelman and David Levien have previously written multiple scripts based around gambling, but the pair takes everything too seriously here.
Koppelman and Levien offer up a film that includes elements from every aspect of the genre, as if they were attempting to make a cocktail and kept adding ingredients until they found the perfect blend. The only problem is that any bartender will tell you, even if you have the exact right ingredients, you can still easily mess up a drink by over indulging. The set-up is weak to start, but add in the gambling addicted father, corrupt gaming officials, Richie’s too-smart-for-their-own-good best friends that he brings along for the ride, a quasi-love triangle and a random crocodile farm for good measure (because, really, why not?) and you begin to get viewer fatigue. Thankfully, the writers never really had the forethought to try adding depth to any of these subplots. It makes things easier, because there is no reason to care about what happens to the characters, especially Richie, who is really only propelled by his own selfishness.
A poor script isn’t helped by the lightweight performance of Justin Timberlake. Passable in a supporting role in "The Social Network," Timberlake is only meant to be a leading man in the music industry. His limited abilities only work when he is playing the big man on campus. Scenes requiring him to play any other emotion leave him sounding like a petulant child, who is trying to keep up with everyone else. It is even more interesting that Timberlake is able to sound so smooth on his albums, but come across as whiny most of the time when speaking.
On the other hand, Affleck is having a ball playing Block. Similarly to his character in "Boiler Room" he gets to spout over-the-top Machiavellian lines like this: "If you want your own island and your boss says you have to go out there and take a beating, go out, take it, and come back to work and say, ’Do you need me to do it again?’ " It’s a rare man that can scream that and make you cheer for him, but the future Batman is relishing the opportunity.
Director Brad Furman (following up "The Lincoln Lawyer") is attempting to bring the glitz and outrageousness from their overindulgent lifestyles. But the film doesn’t look expensive or over the top, nor do the parties look that entertaining. Furman doesn’t know how to handle these types of scenes, or can’t stretch the value of a dollar. The only expensive-looking part of the film is the wardrobe and makeup used to make actress Gemma Arterton look so amazing.
Justin Timberlake is going to keep being cast in films because of his other career, but without a strong script he is more of a hindrance than an asset. Luckily, Ben Affleck is able to swoop in and save the day. "Runner Runner" is cheap and shallow, two characteristics that should make you want to run away as fast as possible.