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ARTS & ENTERTAINMENT

Runner Runner

Justin Timberlake learns that his life is nothing like a game of poker.
By Lee Zachariah
October 07, 2013
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Runner Runner

Justin Timberlake learns that his life is nothing like a game of poker.
By Lee Zachariah
October 07, 2013
  shares

When preternaturally handsome and implausibly named financial-whiz-kid-turned-Princeton-post-grad Richie Furst (Justin Timberlake) loses his last twenty grand in an online poker match, he flies to Costa Rica and is immediately offered an eight-figure salary by preternaturally handsome and implausibly named shady entrepreneur Ivan Block (Ben Affleck).

So it's safe to say that having a relatable character and storyline is not a priority for Runner Runner, a film which is largely about attractive wealthy people being attractive and wealthy at one another. As Richie discovers that running an online poker empire in Central America is more fruitful than working hard back in New Jersey, the seedier elements of Block's empire soon present themselves. The dangers, as with the successes, come far too easily, and Richie quickly learns the adage that if something looks too good to be true, it probably is.

This rather speedy film isn't quite edited in the hyperventilated manner of something like Now You See Me, but there are a number of odd jumps that suggest a fair bit of post-production tampering, and it's this tampering that shows Runner Runner at its most interesting.

When Richie tries to convince Rebecca Shafran (Gemma Arterton) to let him into Block's impossible-to-get-into party, he stumbles over some strained charm before finally spitting out his request. "That wasn't so hard, was it?" says Arterton, and we slam cut to Richie strutting his stuff at Block's luxurious pad. Either the writers gave up at that point, or Richie's smooth talkin' jive as filmed wasn't remotely convincing. The lesson is that the quickest way to get into a high-end party is with a fast edit.

The film is littered with awkward cuts such as these, and sporadic, clumsy narration from Richie attempts to paste over the cracks. The most prominent sign that these voice overs were written in a hurry comes from the film's absolute highlight, a laugh-out-loud moment in which Richie injects some faux-philosophy into the climax:

"This isn't poker. This is my life, and I have one play left. Put all my chips in and-"

Apologies for cutting it off there, but I couldn't hear the rest of the quote over my own laughter. To clarify: Richie's life is nothing like poker, and here's a poker metaphor to drive that point home. This is what happens when you write your dialogue the night before the premiere.

Look, Runner Runner isn't terrible, and with a runner-running time of 91 minutes, it's far from an endurance test. The problem is that it's so very dispassionate as it goes through the usual rise-fall-redemption motions, it's impossible to really engage with it at all. Ultimately, Runner Runner is really just a movie designed to provide some background noise as you update your Facebook.

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