Despite his weaknesses as a movie director, Brad Furman has a reputation for timely casting. He has done an amazing work in Runner Runner with Justin Timberlake as Riche Furst who tries to win his tuition fee by playing online poker games. After realizing that he has been defrauded, Richie travels all the way to Costa Rica with the intention of confronting an online gambling kingpin, Ivan Block (Ben Affleck).
Unfortunately, things turn out to be opposite to the normal expectations. Richie is blinded by Block’s unrealistic promises of great wealth, luxurious lifestyle until he learns the bitter truth about his benefactor. Nevertheless, the mishit in the movie lies in the lack of interconnection between the casino and the key players in the movie despite Thurman’s efforts to remind the audience about gambling using metaphors.
Costa Rica is a beautiful country with attractive beaches, resorts, biodiversity and of course, friendly residents. As a tourist destination, you expect a lot of activity to be going, and gambling in one of them.
Richie sets off to meet face to face with the undisputed king of online gambling, Affleck, after his expulsion from Princeton. Surprisingly, Ivan admits to all Richie’s accusations and he accepts to refund the young boy all his losses. He even offers Richie a chance to work for him. With the help of some beach boys, Richie quickly learns the rules of the jungle and eventually falls into Ivan’s jack of all trade, Rebecca. The affair goes on smoothly until Richie is kidnapped by FBI agents who want some intel about Ivan’s business.
Ivan is astonished by Richie’s response concerning his kidnapping where the boss claims that it happens to all his staff. “It’s the gambling business in Costa Rica — occasionally you get punched in the face.” But Ivan is not happy with his boss’ activities of sending him to blackmail top-notch clients to continue partnering with him as well as bribing the local authorities who had started being suspicious of his hidden agenda. The police are afraid of Ivan because of his ability to trouble, manipulate or destroy anyone who tried to stand in his way.
Like in his past works (The Lincoln Lawyer and The Take), the main overriding problem in Runner Runner is the absence of real pulse, a throb of excitement and the flow of the story. The director has completely stuffed the screen with luxurious boats, classy cars, private jets and parties crowned with half-naked women but it lacks the intoxicating hook to grab the audience attention.
Luckily, Richie gets a hint from Ivan’s software geek- Andrew Cronin- informing him that Ivan is running a Ponzi Scheme, whereby the player’s account has no real money. He also realized that Ivan uses the player money as his personal account, keeping only enough for them to withdraw whenever they are in need of. On realizing that Richie might reveal his secrets, Ivan goes ahead and buys huge poker debts of Richie’s father and orders him to be brought to Costa Rica to use him as a hostage.
At one time, Ivan throws Herrera and his personal body into a river with crocodiles but pulls them out before they are crashed by the reptile. On the other hand, Richie’s friend Cronin disappears abruptly and he is later found thoroughly beaten and wounded. Moreover, Richie learns of Ivan’s secret plan to move his business from Costa Rica without him.
In return, he massively bribes anyone and everyone in authority including the pilot to ensure that Ivan’s evil plans fail. Unaware of what awaits him, Ivan calls Richie to sarcastically apologize and inform him of his downfall as he flies away in his private jet. But alas! The bribed pilots intentionally take Ivan to Puerto Rico.
Just like in Disney Land stories of a Happy Ending, the FBI agents and Shavers move in to arrest Ivan as Richie and Rebecca fly away in a private jet.