Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Runner Runner

"Runner Runner" makes "21" look like "Rounders." Here's a movie about an offshore poker website that knows almost nothing about offshore business, poker, or the Internet. Justin Timberlake plays Richie Furst, a Princeton student paying his way through school with online poker winnings, until he loses everything heads-up with an apparent "fish" who seems to know exactly what cards he hold. His math-geek best buds (hey, if you've bought it so far) run the numbers and prove the fish was actually a bot operated by the house. 

This leads Richie, who doesn't speak a word of Spanish, to catch the next flight to Costa Rica in hopes of gaining an audience with Ivan Block (Ben Affleck), the swave-and-deboner kajillionaire who runs Midnight Black. Through circumstances too preposterous to enumerate, he charms Block's femme-fatale girlfriend (Gemma Arterton) into an invite to a huge party for MB affiliates, which makes the Electric Daisy Carnival look like a quilting bee. 

Justin Timberlake as a college kid who's too smart for his Ivy League classmates. Ben Affleck as a tough, hard-boiled racketeer who douses uncooperative sheriffs in chicken fat and throws them to the crocodiles. Gemma Arterton as a sex goddess capable of causing men to risk life, limb and vast personal fortunes. Let it be said of each of them that none fares worse in his or her role than would have Paul Lynde or Wayland Flowers. 

"Runner Runner" doesn't know as much about poker as you'd pick up from an hour watching Gabe Kaplan on GSN, so it turns itself into a thriller with silly shifting alliances, dumb double-crosses and predictable comeuppances. The best line belongs to Anthony Mackie, as an FBI agent trying to bring down Block. He has airport police plant drugs on Richie (who by then works for Block) to get him to cooperate. "I love doing shit like this to Princeton guys," Mackie snarls, "'cause I went to Rutgers."

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