Film: "Runner Runner"; Cast: Justin Timberlake, Ben Affleck, Gemma Arterton, Anthony Mackie, Michael Esper, Oliver Cooper, Christian George, Yul Vasquez, John Heard, James Molina, Louis Lombardo and Vincent Laresca; Director: Brad Furman; Rating: **
In the world of gambling, "Hard work does not guarantee success and nobody plays for free". So would be the case in the world of entertainment too. Director Brad Furman should have known it by now.
"Runner Runner" is a synthetic tale of an aspirant's journey to impress and follow the path of his idol and mentor only to realise that his idol has abused his faith and turned him into a mere pawn in his scheme of things.
Set in the backdrop of high stakes in the world of online gambling, a Wall Street dropout and a promising Masters in Finance student Richie Frust (Justin Timberlake) is struggling for his tuition fees at Princeton University. So, in order to make a quick buck, he turns to gambling and thereby ropes in the student community on campus.
But soon, the university officials catch up with him and he is threatened with expulsion unless he stops this nefarious activity.
After scrutinising the gambling site Midnight Black, in his last and desperate bid to make it big, he gambles his entire savings. Unfortunately, he loses. Unable to digest this fact, he consults the computer expert on campus and realises that he was cheated.
Determined to retrieve his lost money, Richie heads to Costa Rica to meet Ivan Block (Ben Affleck), the promoter of the online casino and confronts him.
Unperturbed, Ivan apologises and offers Richie two alternatives; a refund or to work with him. Richie takes the offer to work with him and soon realises that everything is not picture perfect in this gambling den.
The plot points in "Runner Runner" seem to have been often witnessed in movies like "Wall Street", "The Devil's Advocate", "Boiler Room" and "The Social Network" hitting the same graph points along the way.
Also, the momentum of the script and the screenplay loses its charm when, what starts off as an online gambling issue, gradually slides into the brick-and-mortar gambling mafia zone. Also, these scenes do not evoke the adrenaline rush that one notices in casinos.
With dialogues like "The eternal truth, the house always wins," and "At Princeton, you're either bred for it, or you bleed for it" by writers Brian Koppelman and David Levien, it seems like an effortless corny job dished out in a hurry.
On the performance front, except for Justin Timberlake who seems sincere in his performance and proves himself a competent actor, the rest of the cast just sleepwalk their parts.
The worst is Ben as Ivan, the suave smooth talking website promoter. He does not make any effort to emote. He is more comical than threatening, especially in the menacing scenes where he feeds crocodiles. And Gemma Arterton as Ivan's moll, does not add anything exclusive to her character either.
The glossy cinematography by Mauro Fiore is splendid. He has managed to capture the external shots beautifully but the real gambling scenes are staid. The background score with Spanish music is appealing.
Director Brad Furman's "Runner Runner" will appeal only to a select audience who are technologically savvy and those interested in discussing mind-boggling financial numbers. The others may just lose interest within the first few minutes.