Title: Runner Runner

20th Century Fox

Reviewed for Shockya by Harvey Karten. Data-based on RottenTomatoes.com

Grade: C+

Director: Brad Furman

Screenwriter: Brian Koppelman, David Levien

Cast: Ben Affleck, Justin Timberlake, Gemma Arterton, Anthony Mackie, Oliver Cooper, Ben Schwartz

Screened at: AMC Empire, NYC, 10/2/13

Opens: October 4, 2013

“Runner Runner” offers much to be disappointed with, but the major displeasure is that Costa Rica was not actually used as backdrop though that wonderful country is supposed to be the film’s location. Not that Costa Rica would have enjoyed allowing the film crew to take over given the disrespect that the company tosses their way. Though Costa Rica is noted for refusing to bend the knee to developers but makes sure to keep its animal sanctuaries “pura vida,”director Brad Furman gives prospective travelers enough reasons to avoid tourism, all of which are false.

For example in one of the opening scenes, Richie Furst (Justin Timberlake) tells his friend that he is bound for Costa Rica, only to receive a warning: get your shots—the monkeys bite. In reality, no shots are required and the monkeys, though eager for food, do not sink their teeth into their benefactors. All the women in the cast of “Runner Runner” are hookers or man-starved and all the men are on the take. The only person doing an honest job is FBI Agent Shavers (Anthony Mackie), and even he resorts to strong-arm measures to get the conviction he wants—never mind that the FBI has no jurisdiction there.

The story is not interesting enough to be considered a thriller, notwithstanding its marketing, nor is Justin Timberlake possessing the charisma needed to rivet attention. On the other hand Ben Affleck does fine as chief villain Ivan Block, a man who exploits Richie Furst who has already been taken for a ride back home at Princeton University where he markets online poker gambling to fellow students. Why shouldn’t he promote gambling? As he puts it, everyone’s a gambler—whether you’re playing the stock market or buying a home, gambling that you will keep yourself employed enough time to pay off the mortgage.

After Princetonian Richie Furst is read the riot act by the university dean (Bob Gunton) for promoting gambling on campus, Richie takes off for Costa Rica in search of Ivan Block, the chief executive of the online poker empire that has captured the attention of Richie’s pals back home. He complains that he had been cheated, quoting something about a standard deviation, but Ivan is not insulted. In fact he offers Richie a gig, which should supply the bright young man with enough money to complete his Master’s in Marketing at Princeton plus flashy autos, gorgeous babes, the best Scotch and cigars. Somehow, not even Richie’s Ivy League education allows him to see that Ivan is not legit, perhaps because in one scene Ivan covers a couple of cronies in chicken fat and feeds them to the local crocodiles.

Beaten and harassed by both the criminals and the aggressive FBI agent, Richie wants only to go home, a sadder and wiser man. The movie might be compared to others of the sub-genre like “Boiler Room,” Ben Younger’s story of a college dropout who gets a job as a broken in a shady investment firm, but “Runner Runner” lacks that movie’s subtleties and twists to keep the audience on their toes. “Runner Runner” is predictable from start to finish, and did I mention that the whole scene filmed in Puerto Rico lacks the charm of Costa Rica’s Papagayo Beach while giving the audience the feeling that the Central American state is one big carnival of hot women and glitzy casinos?

Rated R. 91 minutes © 2013 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

Story – C

Acting – C+

Technical – C

Overall – C+

By Harvey Karten

Harvey Karten is the founder of the The New York Film Critics Online (NYFCO) an organization composed of Internet film critics based in New York City. The group meets once a year, in December, for voting on its annual NYFCO Awards.

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