Wednesday, November 13, 2013

The Cinema File #275: "Runner Runner" Review


Walking into Runner Runner (pun regrettably intended), I was somewhat confused as to what the movie was about based on the one trailer I'd seen. Granted I was barely paying attention, but all I could really gather was that Justin Timberlake was in over his head in some sort of criminal activity under the auspices of a surprisingly villainous Ben Affleck. I naturally assumed based on the title that maybe this illicit activity had something to do with drugs or guns or some other sort of contraband one might "run" through clandestine channels. You can imagine my surprise when I discovered that the criminal empire was in fact an online gambling operation, and the Runner Runner of the title really just refers to one scene where Timberlake has to run away from some guys for five seconds.




I don't know why I even had any interest in this movie to tell you the truth. I guess the presence of Affleck, director of my favorite live action film of 2012 acting in a movie he didn't direct intrigued me. Someone with so much freedom and professional cache to do whatever he wants certainly wouldn't come on board a movie with no good reason, right? In retrospect, I'm not sure what convinced him to put a pin in his climb back to credibility for a few months to film this, short of maybe a free vacation to a tropical locale. Maybe that's enough I guess, but I imagine he's got enough money to where he can just do that without having to work in anything. You can probably guess how much little regard I have for the final product here.


Actually, to be honest, its not nearly as bad as it could have been, or as I would have thought it would be had I been told the actual premise beforehand. For a crime thriller set amid the dark seedy underbelly of something as seemingly innocuous as online gambling and credit card fraud, its probably about as tense and suspenseful as is possible. That's not to say  that its particularly tense or suspenseful, just that working from such a deficit and managing to pull out something even this watchable is kind of a feat. I was never bored, and given the subject matter, I'm more than a little surprised that I wasn't. At the end of the day, its still a tedious exercise I wouldn't recommend, but its by far not the worst thing I've seen even this month.


Though I would grant that he certainly has enough charisma, I still can't buy Justin Timberlake as a capable leading man (at least when not with dick firmly placed in box). I don't know what it is, and I'm sure part of it is just residual bias from growing up in the hey day of N'Sync. Literally every time I write his name, I accidentally write Justine instead of Justin and have to correct myself. Its like my subconscious can't bring itself to respect the guy. Ben Affleck comes off a little better, but not by much. He rarely plays bad guys, but ever since his scene stealing turn in Dogma I always expect a lot when he does. Here he's a little too understated in a role that screams for some eccentric Nicolas Cage style craziness. And once again Gemma Arterton makes me question why she has a career, which reminds me that I really have to get on writing my review for the terrible Byzantium.


I feel like Runner Runner is the movie that Paranoia should have been, the story of a small town guy manipulated by glitz and glamour and taken in by a charismatic villain, only to learn the hard truth about the good life and try to get even when everything goes sour. Its done much better here, and ends on a satisfying if predictable note, but in the end its not enough to justify the undertaking of sitting through it. Its the kind of movie where one wonders how enough people were excited about the prospect of making it to finance it and put in all the work needed for any major production. Even when its done better than you'd think, its still pretty pointless when all is said and done.
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