RUNNER Runner, a movie about a young man caught up in a con game and the perils of online gaming, is buoyed by A-list stars, exotic locations and glamorous party scenes. Unfortunately, it also lacks a few essentials - such as character development, coherent narrative and comprehensible plot.
The film, directed by Brad Furman with a script credited to Brian Koppelman and David Levien, bears the hallmarks of sloppy filmmaking and rings hollow virtually from the opening scene on. Furman showed some promise with his previous movie The Lincoln Lawyer (2011), but his follow-up effort is a major letdown.
Justin Timberlake, looking like he hasn't made any wardrobe changes from his latest music video, plays Richie Furst, a savvy graduate student who recruits players for an online site owned by shady businessman Ivan Block (Ben Affleck). When Richie tries to win tuition money by playing on the site, and then discovers that he's been cheated, he decides to bring the evidence to Block, who's in self-imposed exile in Costa Rica - away from federal jurisdiction.
It's not long before Richie is running errands for Block and making goo-goo eyes at Rebecca (Gemma Arterton), Block's statuesque personal assistant and some-time lover. The money's good, the weather's better and the chicks are free (well, not quite), so Richie decides to forgo school, roping in his tech-savvy buddies to help as well.
The financial rewards accumulate but it's not all plain sailing for young Richie and his pals. He's harassed by an FBI agent (Anthony Mackie) who wants to take Block down, and also roughed up by local goons working for Herrera (Yul Vazquez), a corrupt local official who requires constant payoffs. There are also a few wafer-thin subplots, including one involving Richie's deadbeat father, a long-time loser at the gaming tables.
Block is a smooth operator, and a nasty piece of work to boot. When it becomes clear that his con game is close to collapse, he looks for a scapegoat to take the fall - no prizes for guessing who. There have been countless movies about con men and to name just one, Leonardo DiCaprio - who's listed as a producer here - did it much better and with a lot more panache in Catch Me if You Can (2002).
Runner Runner is a convoluted mess, comprising an assortment of shaky scenes strung together with barely any connection to one another. As the ruthless villain, Affleck cruises through the film relatively unscathed, while Timberlake appears to be in a state of permanent confusion, as if contemplating how he ever came to be involved in this movie. It's a condition that viewers will no doubt be able to relate to.