You may have heard that at some press screenings, critics are required to hand over our smartphones to security people, who hold them in a location outside the theater, lest we sneakily attempt to pirate the entire movie — or even merely key exciting scenes — and upload our blurry, shaky footage to YouTube and spoil the cinematic experience for the entire Internet. The fact that no pirated footage has ever come out of press screenings is no deterrent to this practice. And now, with Runner Runner, neither is the complete lack of juicy pirate-able footage.
Badass aliens who want to steal our water in their mile-wide spaceships do not invade halfway through the movie. There are no spectacular car chases featuring tanks and monster trucks and a god-awful innocent-bystander body count. Mostly it’s just Justin Timberlake sitting at computers for a bit — not even naked or anything — and later he’s vaguely menaced by Ben Affleck… with words only, except for some hints of threats of being fed to mostly off-screen crocodiles.
It didn’t have to be this way. This could have been a new Ocean’s Eleven (the cool Soderbergh one, that is), and that’s what the promising setup appears to hint at. Timberlake is a student at Princeton, working on a master’s degree in financial shenanigans — he was, we’re meant to understand, the sole guy on Wall Street in 2008 who was actually honest, and lost all his dough in the crash. Which is why he’s desperate to make some money to pay his tuition and gets suckered by online gambling, losing every last cent playing poker when he should have, mathematically speaking, won a bundle.
So he decides to go after billionaire scumbag Ben Affleck and his gambling website and get his money back. This requires traveling to Costa Rica — the Caribbean is where all these gambling sites operate, as it’s a legal Wild West down there… and also it’s where the FBI, in the person of agent Anthony Mackie, has no jurisdiction and no rules for its operations.
So does Timberlake start planning an immensely clever takedown of Affleck and his empire? Not at all. He completely buys Affleck blaming it all on unscrupulous underlings and takes a job with him! That requires that he sit in front of more computers, then get beaten up by someone Affleck has pissed off, before he realizes his boss is not a decent or honest person. We just want to see Timberlake give Affleck what he has coming in a funny, perhaps ironic way. Runner Runner is only 90-something minutes long, yet feels like it’s about three hours, there’s so little compelling happening for most of the runtime. Timberlake doesn’t even get to feed Affleck to the crocodiles!