Movie review: Runner Runner

Card games have been enjoyed for quite some time; the game of poker has been around since the early 1800's, so presumably strip poker arrived sometime soon after.

These days however, technology has breathed new life into the game of poker; gambling online is now a billion dollar industry. Not only is it convenient, as you can play when you want, you can also participate in whatever attire suits you; so if playing in your pants is your thing, that's OK.

Despite the ability to play in your pants, at no point do Justin Timberlake, Ben Affleck or Gemma Arterton appear in their underwear in this film about online poker, which sounds like a missed opportunity if ever there was one.

There's no denying that Richie (Timberlake) is a smart cookie; unfortunately for him, he wasn't smart enough to see what was coming when he worked on the stock market. After losing his job, and the amazing salary that went with it, Richie decided to go back to school and study.

His head for numbers got him into some trouble though, as he acted as a broker for online gambling sites, by referring rich students to them for a small fee. Sounds innocent enough, but when his university caught wind of it, they told him to stop or move on; after all, gambling on campus is illegal.

Despite this threat, he decides he doesn't really have enough money to cover his tuition fees, so decides to risk all his savings on an online poker game. Knowing the numbers as he does, it's about as much of a sure thing as you can get. He loses. Richie knows for a fact however that it was the system that screwed him over, so decides the only way to settle it is to take a trip to the poker site's expo in Costa Rica.

There, using his obvious charm, he manages to meet the head honcho himself Ivan Block (Affleck); Block is so taken by him he apologies and returns his money, with a little extra on top. Not only that, he sees potential in Richie and offers him a great job.

So Richie suddenly finds himself in the sunny warm climes of Costa Rica, working his dream job. If that isn't a win/win scenario, he doesn't know what is.

A little time inside the organisation however, reveals that the Block and his gambling empire aren't quite as legit as it first appeared. And before Richie knows it, he's in deep, as well as in danger.

Let's face it, if it wasn't for The Social Network, there's a chance this film wouldn't have been made. It proved that a film about a website could not only be entertaining, but also lucrative. Oh and pick up three Oscars for its troubles.

The biggest problem for this film about online gambling is that David Fincher didn't direct it. This is only Brad Furman's third stab at directing and sadly it shows. Despite being able to make the world of online gaming pretty sexy – by setting it in an exotic locale and sprinkling it with a few party scenes full of pretty women – he really struggles with the dramatic side of things.

To his credit, the actual online gaming side features very little, which is just as well as even a seasoned director would probably struggle making an online game of poker appear exciting on the big screen. Unfortunately, it's really difficult to get a feel of any real tension or threat from proceedings. God knows he tries, what with introducing alligators and the odd fist fight, but there's simply no thrill there.

On the plus side, Timberlake cements his ability to act; not only that, he also proves that he has got what it takes to be a leading man, as well as take on more serious roles in a leading man capacity. Affleck flexes his bad guy muscles to good effect too, although he never gets the chance to really go for it. And Arterton does what a Bond girl does best, but sadly nothing more than that, being eye candy.

The story though, just doesn't have anything to get excited about; it puts on an impressive poker face, but ultimately it's bluffing all the way with a fairly weak hand.

3 booms

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