‘Runner’ missing thrills, surprise

Ben Affleck, left, and Justin Timberlake in a scene from “Runner Runner.”
Ben Affleck, left, and Justin Timberlake in a scene from “Runner Runner.”

Whatever his other gifts, Justin Timberlake has a hard time playing “hard.”

Ben Affleck has no hint of sinister about him.

For director Brad Furman, “The Lincoln Lawyer” is looking more and more like a fluke, and even bringing in someone with gambling movie know-how – the screenwriter from “Rounders” – doesn’t help.

So the problems of the Internet gambling thriller “Runner Runner” are many and manifest. A thrill-free thriller with no urgency, scanty wit and limited sex appeal, it plays like just a paycheck for A-list actors who should know better.

Timberlake is Richie Furst, a Wall Street dropout whom we meet as he tries to hustle his way to a graduate degree at Princeton. But the online gambling he’s using to finance college fails him, and a little math tells him he’s been cheated. Somehow, he scrapes together the cash and the moxie to go to Costa Rica and confront the online gaming kingpin, Ivan Block (Affleck).

Block likes that moxie, and next thing you know, Richie’s his right hand man, crunching numbers, recruiting “affiliates” to their Internet empire and making eyes at the boss’s babe (Gemma Arterton).

He has “everything you ever thought you wanted when you were 13.” And then a rules-bending FBI agent (Anthony Mackie, funny) kidnaps him and we wonder whose loyalty Richie will honor – Ivan’s, the feds’ or his own.

“Runner Runner” is the sort of movie where the “hero” narrates his tale so thoroughly that there’s little mystery as to what’s coming. It’s a static picture about a sexy world that robs that world of sex and pizzazz with student film staging and camera blocking. Actors stalk into a shot, hit their marks, make eye contact and recite (weak) lines. (“You forgot the eternal truth. The house always wins.”)

A couple of scenes in this choppy, glumly edited picture work, but they involve “real” gambling, not the online kind – which is uncinematic. There’s barely enough gambling slang to dress up the script. Timberlake’s best moments come in scenes with Richie’s apple-doesn’t-fall-far-from-the-tree dad (John Heard), who is the very picture of addiction.

Affleck? You never believe a word he says, not a gesture. This is the sort of acting he did in the sort of movies he made before he started writing and directing his own movies: bad.

Let’s hope this was just a quickly forgotten bump in the career path of our stars. And Furman had better hope Matthew McConaughey someday feels indebted for the launch “Lincoln Lawyer” gave him. This “Runner” goes nowhere. Fast.

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