You may have heard that at some press screenings, we critics are required to hand over our smartphones to security people, who hold them in a location outside the actual theater, lest we sneakily attempt to pirate the entire movie — or even merely key 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 godawful innocent-bystander body count. No sociopathic serial killer wipes out a sorority slumber party in inventively gruesome and gory ways.
Mostly it's just Justin Timberlake sitting at computers for a bit, not even pirate-ably naked or anything. Later he is 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 in fact that's what appears to be hinted at by the promising setup. Timberlake is a student at Princeton, working on a master's in financial shenanigans. He was, we're meant to understand, the sole guy on Wall Street in 2008 who was actually honest in his work, and so he lost all his dough in the crash.
Which is why he is desperate to make some money now to pay his tuition. Which is why he gets suckered by the Ponzi scheme that is 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, FuckYouSuckers.com or something, and get his money back. This requires traveling to Costa Rica. The Caribbean is where all these gambling sites plunk down their physical operations, 'cause it's a legal Wild West down there. Oh, and also it's where the FBI, in the person of agent Shavers (Anthony Mackie), has no jurisdiction and so also no rules for its operations.
Does Timberlake, then, start planning an immensely clever takedown of Affleck and his empire? Not at all. He completely buys Affleck's blaming of it all on unapprovedly unscrupulous underlings and takes a job with the guy! Which then requires that he do some more sitting in front of computers and then, finally, having to get beaten up by someone Affleck has pissed off before he catches on that his boss is not a decent or honest person. (If Timberlake's character is this naïve, maybe he did get suckered on Wall Street.)
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!
I feel like maybe I need to get on a plane to Costa Rica, or, well, Hollywood, in order to make someone answer for cheating me so.