Theaters are constantly filled with sequels, prequels, remakes and reboots, but even many of the “original” films these days are just copies of films we’ve seen before with a different name. Take Runner Runner, a new thriller that feels like it was made by people who saw Wall Street and Rounders and thought they were just too damn exciting.
The first mistake, right out of the gate, is simply following its main character, Ritchie (Justin Timberlake) – a character so hollow that it’s a challenge to come up with even one adjective to describe his personality. Ritchie is struggling to come up with tuition for Princeton University where he’s getting his master’s degree, and turns to an online gambling site to try and raise some money. After losing every cent he has and discovering that the website cheated him, he flies down to Costa Rica to confront the owner, a famous millionaire named Ivan Block (Ben Affleck). While logic would suggest that Ivan would throw Ritchie out on his ass, instead the confrontation leads to Ivan offering Ritchie a job. Of course, this all seems like paradise until Ritchie learns the dark secret behind Ivan’s operation… and you know the rest.
Given a useless protagonist who idles through the entire plot, Timberlake is completely sapped of all of his charisma and likability. Once Ritchie begins working for Ivan he stops caring about his Princeton education and loses all of his motivation, which really turns him from a blank slate with money issues into an unlikable, money-grubbing blank slate. With performances in movies like The Social Network and Black Snake Moan we know that Timberlake is a solid performer, but he never stood a chance here.
It's hard to find anything redeeming here, but credit should at least be given to Affleck for at least trying to squeeze an entertaining character out of lousy source material. He’s charming and cool enough, throwing around the occasional cool or funny line that at least helps the audience get what Timberlake sees in him. But when it comes time from Affleck to get intimidating, at that familiar point where the enigmatic mentor turns into the deeply evil villain, the screenplay never lets Ivan pull the trigger. Ultimately it’s just another hollow character in an empty story.
Worse than bland, however, is the true laziness of the David Koppelman and Brian Levien's script. The film make huge narrative mistakes like failing to establish any motivation for the main character, but also doesn’t even really bother with small, interesting details (Ritchie randomly meets two guys that he knows through the internet while exiting the airport in Costa Rica and one convenient montage later they’re his best friends and roommates). You get the sense that the writers didn’t care what they were putting on the page, so why would anyone care what goes up on the screen?
Director Brad Furman showed some definite potential with his last film, helping Matthew McConaughey start rejuvenating his career with the tight legal thriller The Lincoln Lawyer, but every effort he makes here falls completely flat. As rare as it is to see an American movie set in Costa Rica, the film does absolutely nothing to take advantage of its setting from an aesthetic point of view and uses big boats, fancy houses and lots of Hispanic extras to merely float the illusion that the audiences has been taken to a place far from home (it was actually filmed in Puerto Rico). The filmmaking is as apathetic as the storytelling, and the result will have audiences contemplating a nap in their comfy movie theater seats.