By Benjamin Lane
Runner Runner. (2013). Run time: 91 mins. MPAA: R (for language and some sexual content). Starring Justin Timberlake, Ben Affleck, Gemma Arterton and Anthony Mackie. Written by Brian Koppelman and David Levien. Directed by Brad Furman.
Ben Affleck has had quite a career turn around. He wrote the script for Good Will Hunting with Matt Damon, and the majority of audiences teased he was the kind of sidekick to Damon in the writing process largely because while Damon was filming Saving Private Ryan, Ocean’s Eleven and The Bourne Identity, Affleck was busy filming Armageddon, Reindeer Games and Pearl Harbor. In other words, Matt Damon has had a very successful career, and Affleck not so much. Oh but what a turnaround in 2007 when Affleck stepped behind the camera. Gone Baby Gone was such a surprise to everyone, and it was the stepping stone for the new Ben Affleck. But not only could he direct well, he stepped up his acting game as well, with State of Play in 2009 and The Company Men in 2010. Then his second directorial feature, The Town released, and blew critics and audiences away once again, proving that not only could Affleck act and direct well, but he can do them greatly simultaneously. Then Argo, my favorite film directed by him, released last year, winning Best Picture at the Oscars, while Affleck didn’t even get a nomination for Best Director. I guess the best film of the year directed itself. Oh well. Since Argo, we’ve gotten the lowly reviewed Terrance Malik flick To the Wonder, which I have not seen, and he is set to direct and star in the adaptation of Dennis Lehane’s novel Live By Night. But the biggest movie news of the year was, and still is, the casting of Affleck as Batman in the upcoming Man of Steel sequel. That came out of nowhere. Josh Brolin was the favorite. I was rooting for him. Affleck wasn’t even in the running. And when the news broke, the backlash started, as it always does. I think Affleck will make a good Batman and I have faith in him. Sure, Daredevil was a mess, but I think, going back to what I said earlier, ole Ben has really changed his career and started taking things more seriously. Which is why I hope Runner Runner is a movie everyone forgets about fairly quickly, because this is not the movie Batfleck needs right now.
Runner Runner is a rip off of Casino, poorly done, poorly acted and poorly executed. It isn’t a horrifically bad movie, but it’s certainly not a film you would expect from Ben Affleck at this point. Justin Timberlake plays a relatively poor college student who makes his money by gambling online. After discovering he has been cheated, he makes plans to approach the site’s designer and manager (played by Batfleck). From there, the FBI gets involved, tries to get him to become a spy, and it’s a movie that you can tell tries, but it always falls flat.
Believe it or not, I like Justin Timberlake as an actor. He was great in The Social Network, I was one of the few that liked In Time, Friends With Benefits allowed him to do fine work and he will be in Inside Llewyn Davis from the Coen brothers later this year. But here, he’s barely acting. Actually, there were a few times I cringed because of his performance. It was just bad. Sometimes it worked and sometimes I liked him, but because of the script he just didn’t have much to work with. Same with Ben Affleck. He gives the best performance of the movie, but that isn’t saying much. He barely shows up. In only one scene did he bring even the slightest aroma to the screen that he’s an Oscar winner, but even in that scene it was just a faint aroma. Anthony Mackie is just alright as the FBI agent that’s so typical in these types of movies and Gemma Arterton offers virtually nothing with her performance. It’s just a bad showcase for such talent in this cast.
Working with a script from Brian Koppelton and David Levien (Ocean’s Thirteen, Rounders), director Brad Furman (The Lincoln Lawyer) is lazy with his work here. Sure, the script was thinly layered and flat, but Furman let me down, given his directing The Lincoln Lawyer, which I really, really liked. Granted, it’s not terrible filmmaking, but it is bland and sloppy.
FINAL THOUGHTS: After receiving a considerable amount of hate online for the casting of him as Batman, this is not the movie Ben Affleck needs to be in. It’s the wrong movie at the complete wrong time. Runner Runner isn’t a terrible movie, and I can’t say I was ever bored, but it’s about as bland and typical as a “thriller” can get. When the end came, I was smiling, but I think that was more because I was glad it was over than my thinking it was a good ending.