Losing all his money to an online poker scam, Richie Furst (Timberlake) hotfoots it to Costa Rica to confront the gambling site’s mysterious, mega-rich honcho Ivan Block (Affleck), who surprises him with an offer he can’t refuse. Soon enough he’s ‘gambling’ with his life.
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For those not up on their poker lingo, a “runner runner” is a card that either completes a hand or significantly improves one (thank you, Google). Which signals that this shiny but hollow thriller, from the director of The Lincoln Lawyer, is immersed in the unlikely arena of online gambling, where a young chancer is entrapped by a vision of boats, bikinis and minimalist furniture — Hollywood’s default depiction of super-rich living. He is that final card, you see. He’ll be doing a runner runner as well. It’s a metaphor metaphor.
Justin Timberlake plays the aforementioned patsy Richie Furst, a Princeton maths whizz lured into the inner circle of Ben Affleck’s gambling magnate Ivan Block, having lost his tuition fees in a rigged all-nighter. Block does yachts, parties and government pay-offs in deepest Costa Rica — the film’s synthetic display of sin. The locations, unfurled via helicopter shots and time-lapsed sunsets, are holiday-brochure sweet. A paradise that sours for Furst when Anthony Mackie’s hyperactive FBI agent (with statutory dodgy hat) blackmails him into grabbing some dirt on Block’s online hustle and he realises he’s sold his soul to Paddy Power.
After his successes of late, you can’t fault Ben Affleck for kicking back and having a stab at Bond villainy, but the new-media Beelzebub thing won’t stick, even when introducing his pet crocodiles. Block is merely a ludicrously preened tosser, possibly Affleck’s revenge on a legion of smarmy studio suits. Timberlake, to be fair, does decent desperation, convincingly gear-shifting from good-time Charlie to dead man walking by lengthening his stubble for a brooding urgency. You do root for him, and he turns tables with some neat plays.
Plucky Brit Gemma Arterton, the colour of a Findus Pancake, is the only female in the film not playing a Costa Rican hooker. Instead, she is Block’s sometime flame-cum-factotum who woodenly attempts to inject sexual tension into online poker. A quest finally rendered vain when her big moment of lush erotica turns out to be a hasty knee-trembler in a flowerbed, Timberlake having mislaid sexy again.
That kind of sums it all up: a swift, unsatisfying shimmy of a movie all slicked up with a topical MacGuffin but the climax (and score) from a ’90s DVD thriller starring Jeff Fahey. It’s as if Tequila Sunrise never happened.
However exotic the locations and starry the stars, there’s no escaping this is The Devil’s Advocate of online gambling. Fold.
Reviewed by Ian Nathan