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RUNNER RUNNER , USA , 2013 , MPAA Rating : R for language and some sexual content

Few things in life are quite as irksome as a film that thinks itís clever when itís anything but. Such is the case of the would-be thriller, RUNNER, RUNNER. In its inept attempts to mix current events with action tropes, it becomes a lackadaisical mishmash of scenes stitched together with a hope, a prayer, and a voice-over to help us through the parts where the plot skedaddles along with our interest.

Among its many sins is that this flick wastes Justin Timberlake as Ritchie Furst, an ambitious guy who lost everything when Wall Street collapsed. His attempt to rebuild his life with a graduate degree from Princeton fails to pan out, and his lifeís savings disappear into the online gambling site for which he has been supporting himself as a shill. Ritchie, backed up with some fancy math, is convinced heís been cheated, and in an all but incomprehensible move, decides to confront the gambling mogul, Ivan Block (Ben Affleck) in his Costa Rican lair. In an even more incomprehensible plot point, the gambit pays off with Ivan hiring Ritchie for a ridiculously large amount of money, and Ritchie becoming the sex toy of Gemma Arterton, Ivanís much-deposed, yet still winsome, aide-de-camp.

Ben Affleck, fresh from a richly-deserved Oscarô for ARGO, is dragged down, too, by the filmís many failings, but despite the fact that his character is barely a conceptual sketch of an idea, Affleck has the best lines in the film, and he really seems to enjoy the interlude wherein he chucks frozen chickens at his characterís pet crocodiles.

As for story, it is a series of obligatory scenes. The obligatory scene where Ritchie and the aide-de-camp meet cute. The obligatory scene where Ritchie proves his nerves of steel at the craps table. The obligatory scene where Ritchie makes his first shady business move. The obligatory confessional scene with the aide-de-camp after some oddly passionless intercourse. The obligatory forgiveness scenes between Ritchie and his gambling-addicted father. And, of course, the obligatory reality-check scene from Ritchieís best friend. There are also the obligatory scenes of Ivanís dealings with corrupt government officials, and of Ritchie undertaking a payoff in, of course, a brothel.

None of it is original and none of it makes a whole lot of narrative sense, even with the voice-overs trying to make sense of it all, or the camera jiggling vigorously whenever something happens thatís supposed to be exciting. If it werenít for the lobbed frozen chickens, and Anthony Mackie as an upfront and no-nonsense FBI agent out to bring Ivan to justice, there would be nothing that registers as even mildly interesting going on.

RUNNER RUNNER devolves into a sleight-of-hand trick that forgot the hand and the sleight. People speak obliquely yet portentously in scenes that seem to have been cross-cut at random. The payoff, such as it is, is far too pleased with itself to notice that it has fallen flat.

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