Movie review: ‘Runner’ is a thriller on the road to nowhere



Ben Affleck and Justin Timberlake lack the edge it takes for the thriller “Runner Runner.”



    Rated: R for language and some sexual content. Starring: Ben Affleck, Justin Timberlake, Gemma Arterton. Director: Brad Furman. Running time: 91 minutes. Theaters: Edwards 22 and Edwards 9 in Boise, Edwards 14 and Edwards 12 in Nampa, Majestic 18 in Meridian.

Whatever his other gifts, Justin Timberlake has a difficult time playing “hard.” Ben Affleck has no hint of sinister about him.

For director Brad Furman, “The Lincoln Lawyer” is looking more like a fluke. Even bringing in someone with gambling expertise — 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, a Wall Street dropout whom we meet as he hustles his way to a Princeton graduate degree. But the online gambling he’s using to finance college fails him, and a little number crunching tells him he’s been cheated. He scrapes together the cash to go to Costa Rica and confront gaming kingpin, Ivan Block (Affleck).

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

And then a rules-bending F.B.I. 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. It’s a static picture about a sexy world that robs that world of pizazz with student film staging and camera blocking. Actors stalk into a shot, hit their marks, make eye contact and recite (weak) lines.

A couple of scenes in this glumly edited picture work, but they involve “real” gambling, not the uncinematic online kind. There’s not enough gambling slang to dress up the script. Timberlake’s at his best in scenes with Richie’s 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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