An inconsequential movie with so little on its mind that you might think it was created by a robot with no idea of what a person is outside of what it’s seen in bad movies, Runner Runner is a thriller in the loosest sense of the word. Suspense is not generated in this movie. The narrative is run through so quickly that I almost want to suspect studio interference cut out a good half hour of film — except that I can’t think of what that half hour would contain, except more people talking about nothing in particular.
Part of the problem is that you’ve seen this film before. A young up-and-comer, in this case a man named Richie Furst (Justin Timberlake), winds up under the tutelage of a wealthy businessman (Ben Affleck), learning the ins and outs of the business, before one of the two winds up having a different motive from the other, leading to conflict. The up-and-comer here is someone who gambles and found a cheater in the system of the Affleck character. He points out the cheater and is then offered a job.
From here, he advances through the ranks of Affleck’s corporation at a breakneck pace, much like the film he’s in. There’s little time to do anything else. A love interest (Gemma Arterton) is introduced. An FBI Agent (Anthony Mackie) also shows up, threatening, despite much of the film taking place in Costa Rica, where the FBI has no jurisdiction. Neither of those two matter, nor do they really provide a purpose. In some cut it’s likely they played a large role but here they appear in a couple of scenes, talk a bit, and then disappear for a while.
Even the main story doesn’t amount to much. The ending, which is predictable, is disappointing and anticlimactic. It shouldn’t be. When we finally get to see if it’s going to be the master or the student who’s going to be going to jail, we shouldn’t be yawning and looking at our watches. I was doing both. Runner Runner is incapable of generating any semblance of suspense. It’s impossible to get invested in what’s happening and the filmmakers don’t try to help you in that quest.
As I mentioned earlier, the film takes place in Costa Rica. You might assume that means it will make good use of its locale and have some beautiful shots and bright colors. There are some, to be sure, but nowhere near the amount that you would hope to see. Too much of the film takes place inside or against scenery that could be shot anywhere. Maybe it was shot on-location, or somewhere that could pass for Costa Rica, but it doesn’t often come through in the final product.
So much of the film feels rushed. Scenes that should generate suspense and tension on their own are hurried along with minimal impact. Richie is put in at least a couple of situations where his life might be on the line, but instead of milking that we just move along. By the time we should be fully thinking about how he’s going to get himself out of this one, or what the other characters’ true motives are, we’re already three scenes later. A constant complaint of mine is that films are unnecessarily too long; this one could have done with a longer running time.
If so far stayed clear of exactly what type of company the Affleck character runs, and that’s because it doesn’t matter. It’s an online gambling one, if you must know, and that alone might intrigue some people. How many films have dealt with this concept before? I can’t think of any off the top of my head. This could be interesting. It’s not. We see a glimpse of the behind-the-scenes and it’s just as generic and lifeless as the rest of the movie.
Justin Timberlake is a good actor. Gemma Arterton is a good actor. Ben Affleck is a good director, not actor. Anthony Mackie is a good actor. This is a talented cast, but none of them are put to good use here. Affleck and Mackie get a couple of good one-liners but nothing more — and they both push the definition of “wooden” to the extreme — Justin Timberlake is charismatic but nothing more, and Gemma Arterton is there to look pretty, as far as I can tell, as she’s given nothing to work with.
Runner Runner is a soulless and lifeless thriller that’s so boring I almost couldn’t muster up the energy to say more than “it’s worse than watching paint dry” — instead, I did this clever subversion while also still getting to use the paint drying comparison. It has good actors underutilized, a decent premise completely wasted, and it’s been paced far too fast to allow for any sort of suspense to build. Even the setting of Costa Rica went to waste. There’s little here to enjoy, and there are far better films with similar premises. Watch those instead.