Sunday, September 7, 2014

3+1 Short Paragraphs: Runner Runner

2013, Brad Furman (The Lincoln Lawyer) -- Netflix

I admit, the only reason I decided to watch this was because Gemma Arterton is in town and this is the closest I will get to her. Too bad her role is basically non-existant. She is the sexy voice in the pretty dress who seduces yet elicits sympathy. Not much there. Which pretty much describes the whole movie. Damn, it looks pretty but just beneath the surface, there is nothing solid. And amusingly enough, that is also what the movie is trying to present about the idea of online gambling and the billions of dollars behind it.

Richie Furst (Justin Timberlake) is Princeton Masters student and an online gambler, but more than that, he works as an "associate" for online gambling sites. Essentially he suckers people into signing up, by making it look sexy. Most people lose their shirts. Thus Princeton looks down on his activity, not technically gambling but just as dastardly in their minds. But he needs the money he makes to pay his tuition. He is forced into gambling away whatever money he was making in one big shot, but is hustled out of it by a player who cheats the online system. Richie's next gamble? Take his proof right to the top of the website, Ivan Block (Ben Affleck) -- the boss of this offshore online gambling site (i knew it was considered shady in the US, but is it actually illegal?) won't like knowing there are cheaters on his site, right? Yeah, uh huh.

But the plot then dumps us into some sexy, fabricated world on untouchable online gambling in Costa Rica with women, money, cars, boats, corruption, seduction and booze, It lays out the glamourous but less than legal life of online gambling moguls, with Block a thinner, more attractive version of Kim Dotcom. We never quite see how it is illegal, but the FBI want him shut down at any cost. We never quite see how they are duping their players; the phrase Ponzi Scheme is tossed out so we get something. We are never sure how Block is stealing from his own company, but that he has done it before. And other than a USB key full of fast pop-ups (how do people read those, let alone get anything from them?) we are provided no data. Money is handed around, seedy things happen but all the real stuff seems to happen off camera.

All the classic elements of a bait & switch racketeering movie are there, but just the surface of them. It is sexy (I use the word over and over again because I imagine that is how the elevator pitch went), and well paced and very well spoken. In latter days Leonardo Dicaprio would have played Richie, but now he is too old and too fat. Affleck plays scuzzy very well, but Timberlake is too slick to be "beer & pizza" guy from New Jersey believable. Maybe that is a point somewhere. And Gemma just looks pretty, damn pretty, but never really has a point other than being that. Oh yes, and Anthony Mackie (Falcon in The Winter Soldier) is the angry FBI agents who has to take down Block. The USB key is for him.