‘Runner Runner’ fails to generate needed excitement

A story like that at the heart of “Runner Runner,” about a young American gambler who gets sucked into the criminal doings of a big-time offshore operator, would have found its ideal life as a black-and-white programmer back in the 1950s.

Today, it would have been most viable as a grandiose character study by a filmmaker like Martin Scorsese or Michael Mann.

What’s actually up onscreen in this tawdry melodrama falls into a no man’s land, a work lacking both style and insight into the netherworld it seeks to reveal.

This Fox release holds a losing box-office hand despite an intriguing setup and stars Ben Affleck and Justin Timberlake.

Threatened with expulsion from Princeton unless he shuts down his online gambling site, finance grad student Richie Furst (Timberlake) heads for Costa Rica determined to stick it to the king of computer gambling, Ivan Black (Affleck).

Richie cleverly scores an audience with the bodyguard-festooned Ivan. Lounging on his hero’s yacht, Richie brazenly accuses his host of cheating him on his site and Ivan readily admits it. In the film’s best-written scene, the Black affably agrees to reimburse Richie for his losses and then some.

But, then again, Ivan can always use a smart, ballsy guy in his operation, so maybe Richie would like to come work for him. Seven, maybe even eight figures a year beckon.

With the help of a couple of other Yankee college boys, Richie quickly learns the ropes and gets mixed signals from Ivan’s glamorous factotum Rebecca (Gemma Arterton), who may or may not be on exclusive reserve for the boss.

All goes swimmingly until, a third of the way in, Richie is kidnapped by none other than the FBI, whose local agent Shavers (Anthony Mackie) tries to coerce the kid into informing on Ivan’s business.

When Richie tells his boss what happened, Ivan waves it off, claiming it happens to everyone who works for him.

Ivan has a little unpleasantness of his own in store for his eager acolyte, as he forces him to blackmail a top client into a continued business relationship, then starts using him as a bagman to pay off local authorities.

The overriding problem with the direction by Brad Furman (“The Lincoln Lawyer,” “The Take”) is that it lacks the throb of excitement to pull you into this unsavory world.

Furman stuffs the screen with luxurious digs, fancy cars, cool boats, private jets and parties loaded with scantily clad women, but there’s no undercurrent, no intoxicating hook to snare the audience along for the ride.

“Runner Runner” (one star)

A college gambler (Justin Timberlake) is sucked into the unsavory world of a gambling kingpin (Ben Afleck). Unfortunately, the film lacks the excitement to suck the audience into the story.

Rated: R for language, content.

Showing: Alderwood Mall, Cinebarre, Everett Stadium, Galaxy Monroe, Marysville, Stanwood, Meridian, Oak Tree, Sundance, Woodinville, Cascade Mall.

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