Runner Runner Features Intrigue and Disappointment for Poker Nerds


“Runner-runner” is a poker term meaning a draw requiring two cards to hit, rather than just one. It’s an arcane term for a rare occurrence, and anyone deep enough in the gambling scene to understand it will probably be disappointed by director Brad Furman’s bland, trivial Runner Runner.

Boy robot Justin Timberlake is a 32-year-old (but spunky!) Princeton grad student who pays his tuition by working as an “affiliate” of an online gambling site, handing out discount vouchers to friends, students, and professors in exchange for a flat commission. His name is Richie Furst, a moniker Ayn Rand might have come up with if she’d written for Harvey Comics.

Desperate to come up with a semester’s tuition, Richie bets everything he has in an online poker match and loses, thanks to some mathematically blatant cheating. So he flies off to Costa Rica to confront the site’s owner, Ivan Block, played by Ben Affleck as a charismatic rogue and written as a psychopath. Instead, he’s charmed by Affleck’s evil charisma and becomes an employee, learning about bribery, blackmail, and financial fraud as a means of getting ahead.

He’s making six figures, sleeping with Ivan’s girlfriend, and it barely registers for him that any mega-rich criminal who spends evenings hurling frozen chickens to his pet crocodiles is basically a Bond villain. Intrigue ensues, some double-crosses, some scenarios that a poker nerd might recognize as “runner-runner” situations, and the formerly naïve and jaunty Richie finds himself working for the feds.

Elevated by the natural beauty of Costa Rica and a soulful performance by John Heard, the film has some small appeal, mostly in the interplay between Affleck and Timberlake.