Runner Runner Is A Slightly More Imaginative, But Still Terrible Poker Crime Film

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Action and macho drama movies about poker usually prefer to portray the game as an open gateway to criminal activities instead of something a little more heartwarming. People, especially those who aren’t really aware of the real human beings who play the game, pretty much take the portrayal of poker in film as the real stereotype of gambling operations. Some of it is actually true, though, due to real-life events, but it can’t all be bad. It’s a perception that’s hard to reverse now, and it’s a perception that a movie like Runner Runner (a terribly-reviewed movie, at that) works on for a huge part of its plot.

In Runner Runner, Justin Timberlake plays Richie Furst, a postgrad student who tries to fund his expensive studies by referring his fellow students to an online poker site that he gets a cut from for each referral. Eventually, he has to move to actually playing poker on the site, and while he amasses a lot of money from playing the game, he loses his winnings after a cheater beats him.

He goes to Costa Rica, where the poker site is based, to confront Ivan Block (played in the movie by Ben Affleck) about the cheating; it turns out that cheating really is allowed in the site’s programming by his programmers. Thanks to Richie’s help, Ivan offers him a job as his new right-hand man (the eponymous runner of the movie), and Richie eventually gets used by the FBI to help take down Ivan’s operation, which is actually a criminal empire. Richie wants out as Ivan sets him up to be the scapegoat of his criminal operation, but everything comes to a climactic head as Richie manages to outwit Ivan and help the FBI arrest him.

If it all sounds cliched to you, then it is. Runner Runner is a movie that seems like something like a The Fast And The Furious film, just that it uses poker instead of fast cars. The premise seemed original enough for a poker-based movie, and the trailer does a good job of making it seem so, but it didn’t seem to give too much thought into how it was going to work out in the end. The cast is anchored by a veteran presence in Ben Affleck, but that alone apparently wasn’t enough to carry a relative movie youngster like Justin Timberlake and a script that just wanted to go through the ropes of a rote genre. It was just there, and the movie just seemed content with halfway being something it really wanted to be.

In fact, Runner Runner was so bad that the film managed to score a measly 8% in overall reviews over on Rotten Tomatoes, which is astounding for a Hollywood movie, and especially astounding for a film with Ben Affleck in its cast.

It seemed as though Affleck already knew that this film wasn’t really worth any of his superior talent, instead choosing to go with the Runner Runner project as an easy Hollywood payday. Despite playing what should have been a charismatic bad guy in the movie, he ended up being careless, heartless, soulless, and indifferent, like he didn’t really bother to feign interest in playing his role in the film.

Related: All In: The Poker Movie Is A Documentary That Doesn’t Show The Whole Picture

On the other hand, Justin Timberlake does his best to make the most out of Runner Runner. He’s the star of the film, a young gun who’s racking up as many headlining roles as he possibly could given his age and his pedigree, and for what it’s worth, he does enough to bring up his role the best way that he can.

runner runner scene

Unfortunately, as with any movie, casts need to work with each other and not against, or else everything is just going to be a waste of time. At this point, however, Affleck is so well into his film career that you kind of understand how he just doesn’t care about acting out this boring script and story, but it’s still a strike on his professionalism.

One other thing that’s problematic about Runner Runner is its stereotypically racist portrayal of Costa Rica. Just because it’s a somewhat impoverished Caribbean (read: Latin American) nation, movies seem to automatically portray it as a corrupt haven where everyone can be bought off with the right amount. While that may be true in most cases of previously-colonized countries, it’s an all-too-familiar setup used by a million other action films that are set south of the U.S. Does it really follow upon further review, then, that these Latinos are all but dishonest? Runner Runner seems to think that most civilized nations could pass for the role of the Cayman Islands in most supervillains’ plots while having the “charm” of say, Puerto Rico. This is a stereotype that we should start leaving in the past.

All in all, Runner Runner is a movie that’s barely about poker and the fine art of playing the game. It’s just another film that wants to use the game’s perceived connections to the underworld (which are, okay, more than just perceived) to put together a slapdash and poorly-reviewed macho thriller. But unfortunately, it isn’t even worth the machismo, and guys like Justin Timberlake are being wasted too much on projects that don’t really pay off. It’s a shame, and I feel like I wasted this review here.

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