Ben Affleck Has the Winning Hand in RUNNER RUNNER (2013)

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Runner RunnerMovie Review:  RUNNER RUNNER (2013)

by

Michael Arruda

 

 

Ben Affleck might not be at the point in his acting career where he can carry a bad movie, but he’s getting close.  Not that RUNNER RUNNER is a bad movie, but it’s safe to say it isn’t a very good one.

 

Richie Furst (Justin Timberlake) is struggling to pay his graduate school tuition, and so he turns to online gambling, hooking players up with online gambling sites and getting paid for his efforts.  But when the college shuts Richie down, he gets desperate and goes all in with a bet on an online site only to lose.  Richie realizes he’s been cheated, and knowing that casinos frown upon cheating because it’s bad for business, he deduces that whoever cheated him was an underling, and the head of the online casino would not be pleased.

 

Richie travels to Costa Rica where he finds and informs the man who owns the site, Ivan Block (Ben Affleck) that someone cheated him, and he shows Block evidence which proves it.  Richie’s instincts prove correct, as Block is dismayed to learn that someone working for him has swindled a customer.  Block is grateful and rewards Richie with a job.

 

Soon, Richie is making all kinds of money, and life is good.  When Block involves him in some shady dealings, Richie naively assumes it’s all legal.  But when he’s confronted by FBI agent Shavers (Anthony Mackie) who tells Richie that Block is a bad egg, it gives him pause.  Of course, Block tells him to ignore the FBI, that they’re just jealous of his success, and for him not to worry because the FBI has no jurisdiction in Costa Rica. 

 

Should have listened to Agent Shavers, Richie!

 

RUNNER RUNNER is actually a pretty entertaining movie for what it is:  fluff trying to pass itself off as serious thriller, and I probably enjoyed it more than I should have because Ben Affleck gives a spirited performance that dominates the film.  Yep, Affleck owns this movie.

 

Ever since his performance as George Reeves in HOLLYWOODLAND (2006) I’ve been on the Ben Affleck bandwagon.  I really enjoyed him in THE TOWN (2010) and of course he hit the ball out of the park with ARGO (2012).  All of these recent roles have led me to forget Affleck’s earlier duds, films like THE SUM OF ALL FEARS (2002) and DAREDEVIL (2003).

 

How good is Affleck as Ivan Block?  Good enough to easily be the best part of this movie.  In fact, if not for Affleck, I don’t think I would have enjoyed RUNNER RUNNER at all.  He brings Ivan Block to life and makes him quite the villain.  He pours his heart and soul into the role.   

 

Justin Timberlake is okay in the lead as Richie Furst, but Richie really isn’t the most interesting character, and Timberlake doesn’t do much to make him memorable.  Granted, I’m not the biggest Timberlake fan.  My favorite Timberlake roles have been when he’s been in a supporting role, in films like TROUBLE WITH THE CURVE (2012) and BAD TEACHER (2011).  Plus for a character who’s supposed to be so smart, Richie takes forever to realize that maybe Ivan Block might not be the best guy to work for. 

 

Gemma Arterton looks good as Rebecca Shafran, the woman who has a relationship with both Ivan and Richie, but it’s a juicer sounding role than it actually is.  We know very little about her relationship with Ivan, and her involvement with Richie never becomes all that believable, nor do Arterton and Timberlake share much chemisty.  Arterton fared slightly better as Gretel alongside Jeremy Renner’s Hansel in HANSEL AND GRETEL:  WITCH HUNTERS (2013).  However, I’ve liked her best so far in the Daniel Craig the James Bond flick QUANTUM OF SOLACE (2008).

 

Anthony Mackie who plays FBI Agent Shavers has been in a lot of movies lately, in films like PAIN AND GAIN (2013), GANGSTER SQUAD (2013), and ABRAHAM LINCOLN:  VAMPIRE HUNTER (2012).  He’s fine here, but it’s a blah role.  Agent Shavers is like just about every other frustrated law enforcement official we see in the movies.

 

A grizzled, tired looking John Heard plays Richie’s dad Harry.  He’s okay in this small role.  I remember when Heard used to be a lead actor.  He’s too good to be playing bit roles like this.

 

The screenplay by Brian Koppelman and David Levien presents a fairly entertaining premise, but most of the drama and thrills here are watered down, and in spite of the film’s R rating, the story never goes for the throat.  For example, in a key scene where Affleck’s Ivan threatens to throw his enemies into the water to be eaten by crocodiles, he doesn’t follow through.  Heck, even James Bond villains do as much.

 

And with the exception of Affleck’s Ivan Block, most of the characters in this one are superficial.  They aren’t fleshed out, and Block only stands out because of Affleck’s performance, not because of the writing.

 

RUNNER RUNNER also suffers from “trailer exposure.”  If you’ve seen the trailer to this one— and I had, multiple times— you’ve pretty much seen the entire movie.  There really isn’t much left in the film to surprise you.  I really wish trailers would become more creative at selling their movie without giving away the entire plot.  Some trailers do this already, like the ones for GRAVITY (2013) but so many just give away the entire story, some even revealing the film’s final scene!

 

I expected RUNNER RUNNER to tackle the subject of online gambling with some depth, but it really doesn’t.  The goings-on here aren’t any deeper than what you would find in a superficial soap opera plot.

 

Nor does the movie have much to say about greed.  Timberlake’s Richie’s driving force in entering the online gambling world is to pay for graduate school.  Granted, he sticks around and accepts Block’s job offer ostensibly to get rich, but we don’t really know that.  We’re never invited inside Richie’s mind and soul to find out what makes him tick, nor do we see him tainted by all of Block’s money and power.  He’s pretty much the same guy at the end of the movie as he was at the beginning.

 

And as much as I liked Ben Affleck as Ivan Block, we never really get inside his head either.  I don’t really know why he does what he does.  Obviously, it’s for the money, but we learn little about Block’s background, where he came from, or what he wants to do with his future.  Ivan Block is a dynamic character only because Affleck’s performance brings the guy to life.

 

Directed by Brad Furman, RUNNER RUNNER is an entertaining piece of fluff that has as its centerpiece a riveting performance by Ben Affleck as an unscrupulous villain of the online gambling world, Ivan Block, but other than Affleck, there’s not a whole lot here to be excited about.

 

Consider folding and placing your bets elsewhere.

 

—END—

 

 

 

 

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TROUBLE WITH THE CURVE – Perfect for Lazy Summer Afternoon

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Trouble With The CurveBlu-Ray Review:  TROUBLE WITH THE CURVE (2012)

By

Michael Arruda

What do baseball and Clint Eastwood have in common?

They’re both slow.

Ouch!

Even so, at 83, Eastwood can still carry a movie, although in TROUBLE WITH THE CURVE (2012), now available on Blu-ray, he doesn’t have to, as he receives fine support from co-star Amy Adams who delivers a sensational performance.

In TROUBLE WITH THE CURVE (2012), Gus Lobel (Clint Eastwood) is an aging baseball scout for the Atlanta Braves.  While his immediate supervisor Pete (John Goodman) has his back, fellow scout Philip (Matthew Lillard) has the ear of the Braves’ general manager, Vince (Robert Patrick).  Philip seems to believe that Gus is too old to do his job well anymore, and he’s pushing for Vince not to renew the octogenarian’s contract.  But Pete goes to bat for his buddy and arranges for Gus to scout the Braves’ top prospect, a slugger named Bo Gentry (Joe Massingill).

However, when Pete discovers that Gus is losing his eyesight, he asks Gus’ adult daughter Mickey (Amy Adams) to check in on him.  Spending time with her father is the last thing Mickey wants to do.  She has spent her life trying to get to know him without success.  Plus, she’s a successful lawyer about to become partner at her firm, so she really can’t take the time off, but Pete tells her that Gus is in danger of losing his job.

Against her better judgment, and against her dad’s wishes, Mickey decides to put her life on hold and join her father as he scouts the Braves’ top hitting prospect.  While there, she meets Johnny Flanagan (Justin Timberlake), a former pitcher who Gus had scouted years before.  Johnny now works for the Red Sox and is there scouting Bo Gentry as well.

While Mickey and Johnny develop feelings for each other, Gus advises the Braves to pass on slugger Bo because he can’t hit a curve ball, but Philip feels otherwise and tells his general manager that he shouldn’t listen to an aging scout like Gus, and that if he passes on Bo, he’ll be passing on the future of the team.

And when Gus’ failing eyesight comes to light, it looks as if his career as a scout is done, but Mickey goes to bat for her father and comes up with a plan to save the day.

TROUBLE WITH THE CURVE is a very satisfying baseball movie, driven along by two excellent performances, by Clint Eastwood and by Amy Adams, and by an affable story that is perfect for a lazy summer day.

Clint Eastwood is perfect as Gus Lobel, a man who has spent his life around the game of baseball.  He’s a crusty old-timer who’s losing his eyesight.  He grumbles and swears when he trips over things, but when he burns his food he jokes about it.  When he misjudges traffic and gets himself injured in a car accident, he shrugs it off.  His life and his passion is baseball, and as long as he’s around the game, he’s content.

As good as Eastwood is, it’s Amy Adams who delivers the best performance in the movie as Mickey, Gus’ daughter.  When we first see her, she’s a powerhouse attorney, but when she joins her dad at the ball park, the truth about her character surfaces.  Like her father, she lives and breathes baseball.  She loves the sport, and she’s more knowledgeable about it than Gus.  A running gag in the movie has Johnny constantly trying to stump her with baseball trivia, but she always knows the answers.

I liked Adams here even better than in her Oscar nominated role in THE FIGHTER (2010).  She’s actually been nominated for an Oscar for Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role four times, but she has yet to win.  She had me hooked in TROUBLE WITH THE CURVE.  As Mickey she’s feisty, knowledgeable, passionate, and ultimately very likeable.  I found her love of baseball infectious.

Justin Timberlake is likeable as Johnny, the young scout who has hopes of getting a job in the broadcast booth for the Boston Red Sox.  He’s the kind of guy Gus easily sees as a good match for his daughter.

And in a more subtle performance than his recent over the top roles in ARGO (2012), FLIGHT (2012) and THE HANGOVER PART III (2013), John Goodman plays it straight here as Gus’ friend and supervisor Pete.  Goodman’s Pete is a loyal buddy, a guy you’d definitely want watching your back.

The screenplay by Randy Brown tells a likeable story, and you’ll be pulling for Gus to be right about his instincts and keep his job.  There is a dark revelation towards the end, explaining why Gus felt the need to send Mickey away when she was a child, and why he felt he was failing her as a parent, but this melancholy plot point is overshadowed by a happy ending which was far too syrupy sweet for my tastes.  I didn’t find Mickey’s discovery at the end of the movie all that believable.

Director Robert Lorenz gives TROUBLE WITH THE CURVE a nice baseball feel, and he matches the deliberate pace of the movie with the sluggish pace of a baseball game.  It’s not going to win any awards for the fastest paced movie of the year.  Lorenz also captures what it feels like to be a baseball scout.

TROUBLE WITH THE CURVE is not the most exciting movie going, and its happy finale where all the loose ends come together gift wrapped in the final act is right out of a Frank Capra movie, and as such is a little too old-fashioned for my tastes.

Yet, like a baseball game in the middle of summer, it provides enough diversion to pass a sultry afternoon.

Pass the peanuts, please.

—END—

Books by Michael Arruda:

TIME FRAME,  science fiction novel by Michael Arruda.  

Ebook version:  $2.99. Available at http://www.neconebooks.com. Print version:  $18.00.  Email your order request to mjarruda33@gmail.com. Also available at Amazon.com.

IN THE SPOOKLIGHT, movie review collection by Michael Arruda.

InTheSpooklight_NewText

 Ebook version:  $4.99.  Available at http://www.neconebooks.com.  Print version:  $18.00.  Email your order request to mjarruda33@gmail.com. Also available at Amazon.com.

FOR THE LOVE OF HORROR, short story collection by Michael Arruda.  

For The Love Of Horror cover

Ebook version:  $4.99.  Available at http://www.neconebooks.com. Print version:  $18.00.  Email your order request to mjarruda33@gmail.com. Also available at Amazon.com.