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Susan Granger's review of 'Runner Runner'

Published 4:28 pm, Friday, October 18, 2013
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Set in the world of online gambling, this story revolves around Richie Furst (Justin Timberlake), a mathematically adept Princeton grad student who used to work on Wall Street but, unlike his bosses, lost everything in the 2008 meltdown. Now he works as an "initiator," collecting a commission for directing fellow Ivy Leaguers to a poker wagering website.

After a "cease-and-desist" threat of expulsion from Dean Monroe (Bob Gunton), Richie bets his tuition bankroll on a round of digital Texas Hold `Em, which, against all odds, he

loses.

Believing that he's been swindled, Richie travels to Costa Rica to confront the online poker company's CEO, Ivan Black (Ben Affleck), who lives offshore, outside federal jurisdiction.

It's a remarkable coincidence that he arrives in San Jose just as a rousing gambling convention convenes and meets Block, who promptly offers him a lucrative job, ostensibly grooming him as a protege. Then there's flirtatious Rebecca (Gemma Arterton), who may or may not be Ivan's exclusive arm candy. Not surprisingly, Richie soon grows suspicious of his devious, obviously corrupt boss, who enjoys feeding chicken carcasses to his pet crocodiles and cites Meyer Lansky as an ethical idol. When an FBI agent (Anthony Mackie) pressures Richie to turn informant to take down Ivan on criminal charges, he faces a high-stakes moral dilemma.

Director Brad Furman ("The Lincoln Lawyer," "The Take") encounters insurmountable obstacles working with Brian Koppelman and David Levien's ("Rounders," "Oceans 13") sketchy, stilted, contrived and certainly-not-credible script, but his casting sense remains sharp.

Affleck ("Argo") embodies his contemptible character, while Timberlake ("The Social Network") oozes earnestness, proving, once again, that this pop singer can be convincing as an actor.

Exotic Puerto Rico doubles for Costa Rica here, and product placement spotters should note Richie orders Bud Light, which is not surprising since that beverage is a Timberlake concert sponsor.

On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, "Runner Runner" stacks the deck

with a dicey 4, meaning

that buying a ticket is a gamble that doesn't pay off.

Rent "Rounders" (1998) instead.