Richie Furst is a Princeton student who’s having huge problems paying his tuition. He gets by by acting as an affiliate for an online gambling site called Midnight Black and turning on other college students to the site. Now, Richie’s in trouble with the school and in a last ditch effort to gather the funds that he needs, he banks it all into the site and attempts to use his skills to raise enough money to set himself up. Richie loses all of his money on the site and discovers that there is something shady going on in the programming of the system. Rather than going to the authorities, Richie takes it directly to the owner and founder of Midnight Black, Ivan Block. Since the United States put a clampdown on online gambling, Block has relocated to Costa Rica and so Richie gathers whatever money he has left and makes his own sort of pilgrimage.
Once there, Richie manages to get Block’s attention and impresses him enough to become part of Block’s operation. Things are going fantastically well for Richie including catching the eye of Rebecca Shafran, who’s a former lover and high-up associate of Block’s in Midnight Black. But that’s not the only eye on Richie as he’s also soon discovered by an FBI agent, Shavers and is pressured into giving Block up. Richie refuses but soon discovers that Block has a few more nefarious plans in store for him.
Runner Runner is the latest film from director Brad Furman (previously known for movies like The Lincoln Lawyer and The Take, neither of which I’ve seen) and written by the writing duo of Brian Koppelman and David Levien. Now I do know Koppleman and Levien’s previous work as they were the writing team behind the movie Rounders and the creators of the ESPN short run dramatic series Tilt, both of which I enjoyed quite a bit. Their knowledge oft the gambling world is certainly evident in this movie and for the most part, Runner Runner is certainly a watchable, but predictable film. This tends to lay it’s events out in a pretty much by-the-numbers way as Richie tries to get himself ahead of Block, before Block can set Richie up to take an even bigger fall. It’s nothing that you haven’t seen before, but I do think it’s well executed, looks great, and certainly if you have an interest in this sort of thing, and I do, then it’s still a pretty decent time.
The strongest cards that director Furman has in his deck are his lead actors, Justin Timberlake and Ben Affleck who play Richie Furst and Ivan Block respectively. There’s a magnetism to both characters that makes them fun to watch. While I’m not for sure about Timberlake, I do know that Ben Affleck has some serious street cred in the poker world and so it’s definitely something that he’s drawing from for this performance. These are solid performances though both have certainly had better work in more memorable films and that can be said for the rest of the cast as well. The gorgeous Gemma Arterton plays Rebecca and Anthony Mackie plays FBI Agent Shavers, and again it’s solid work that moves this familiar story forward but not much else.
Runner Runner (the title here refers to a term in poker for needing two cards to fall in successive order to produce a winning hand- which is how Block looks at Richie from their first meeting) is basic light-pulp storytelling that’s more the kind of movie you might can enjoy as it’s running on background on your home TV than the sort of thing that you need to run right out and see immediately. If you’re familiar with either Rounders or Tilt, then it certainly fits comfortably right in line with those types of stories, though it’s a far lighter and less memorable experience. I had a good time with it and would certainly recommend it, but maybe hold off on it and wait for it to hit cable before investing the money for a trip to the theatre.