‘Runner Runner’ huffs, puffs through motions

Let’s talk about career decisions.

Typically, people would like to make the most prudent decision for themselves, according to where they want to go in life.

So why would two ascending actors, one of whom has reinvented himself as a Oscar-worthy director and one of whom has proven himself to be a multi-talented artist, agree to “Runner Runner” (Rated R; 91 Min.)? The same reasons their characters do: money, lots of money.

“Runner Runner” boasts Ben Affleck and Justin Timberlake, the director and the artist, respectively, who really should be choosing better material. The movie kicks off as Timberlake’s character, Richie Furst (In case you forget his last name, everyone in the movie seems to only be able to identity him by his full name, so you’re in luck), loses a lot of money in online gambling, money he planned to use to pay his graduate-school bill.

Furst decides it’s up to him to leave his entire world behind and fly into a hornet’s nest to inform the site’s operator, Ivan Block (Affleck), of the corruption behind the scenes. Furst is pretty much the most naïve character to come out of Hollywood all year, because within minutes he’s captivated by Block’s every word and becomes one of his cronies.

Not much time passes before Furst realizes there’s trouble in paradise. There are also crocodiles Block uses to do his bidding. Things pretty much go south from here.

“Runner Runner” really had potential. Timberlake is a fine actor and Affleck has had a string of great movies, not the least of which, “Argo,” won him Best Picture last year. Maybe the two didn’t realize just how bad the script was until they already signed on the dotted line. The movie speeds through crucial plot points and lingers too long on things that don’t matter. Instead of allowing tension to build between Block and Furst, the movie is an extended travelogue for Costa Rica. For a movie about the seedy side of an exotic country, this film sure is light on seediness.

There are supporting performances here from Anthony Mackie as an FBI agent who likes to pressure Block’s informants; Mackie really doesn’t get to do much but yell clichéd lines at people. The writers try to kindle a romance between Furst and Rebecca Shafran (Gemma Arterton), but the chemistry just isn’t there and their scenes together feel forced. Beyond their love affair, Arterton doesn’t do much beyond stand there and look pretty. That’s a shame, because she is a good actress.

Maybe Affleck has the exact opposite problem — he’s given too much to do, seemingly enjoying taking on the bad role for a while but appearing bored with it at other times. He could’ve chewed scenery and does on several occasions, the film’s best scenes, but he’s a little too reserved in scenes where he should have let loose. Why would he accept this role to begin with if he were going to look so bored doing it? He has numerous other projects calling his name.

Timberlake just gets to be a pretty face as well. Yet another shame — I’d think his work in “The Social Network” was enough proof to put him a decent leading role.

“Runner Runner” does have its moments — the aforementioned crocodile scene is where Affleck really lets loose. However, the writing is poor in the downtime and the film generates very little tension; a huge problem considering this film needed to thrive on it to be successful. Affleck and Timberlake had an excuse to sign on to this movie in its early phases, because the concept would’ve lent itself to an effective thriller if given the right screenplay.

The film loses its grip on the audience when it decides to show its cards too early and doesn’t let the chemistry between the three leads percolate. Time to fold.

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About Karsten Burgstahler

Karsten Burgstahler can be reached at kburgstahler@dailyegyptian.com or 536-3311 ext.255.

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