Blu-ray Review: Runner Runner

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Best known for directing an adaptation of Michael Connelly’s popular novel The Lincoln Lawyer in 2011, Brad Furman delivered the workmanlike Runner Runner in October, 2013. No one seemed particularly interested and a few weeks later it quietly slipped out of theaters with less than $20 million to its name. The star power of Justin Timberlake and Ben Affleck failed to draw moviegoers, but now the slickly-produced, internet gambling-based thriller has a second shot at life on Blu-ray, now available from 20th Century Fox.

To its credit, Runner Runner is short, clocking in at a brisk 91 minutes. On the other hand, the predictable plotting keeps the film from ever achieving the tempo suggested by its title (which actually refers to a specific hand in poker; if you don’t know the game, don’t expect Brian Koppelman and David Levien’s screenplay to explain the term). Ritchie Furst (Timberlake) is a former Wall Street broker now working his way through Princeton via internet gambling. He lands in trouble after getting busted for referring impressionable students to gaming sites (for which he receives a kickback).

A bid to win his tuition on a poker site leads to a huge monetary loss for Ritchie. He determines that he’s been cheated, leading him to Costa Rica to personally confront the internet gambling kingpin Ivan Block (Affleck). Block is impressed not only with Ritchie’s numeric skills (not just anyone could’ve cracked exactly how his sites are rigged), he sees a man of integrity. After all, Ritchie could’ve gone public with his discovery, spreading the news that Block is cheating players. After suavely denying any knowledge of specific wrongdoing (it’s his programmers who have embedded cheat codes within the software, he claims), Ivan offers Ritchie a job in his organization. However glamorous it seems at first, Ritchie quickly finds himself in over his head.

Runner runner Justin Timberlake.jpgAs the FBI moves in on Block, hampered by jurisdiction issues in Costa Rica, Ritchie has some tough decisions to make. Actually, it’s just one big decision: help FBI Agent Eric Shavers (Anthony Mackie) and get out of Ivan’s grip while he can, or continue to take the money and live dangerously. Part of the problem is that Timberlake’s Ritchie comes across as too mature and intelligent to fall under Ivan’s spell in the first place. The other issue is the lack of a believable friendship between Ritchie and Ivan. Why would Ritchie care about selling out this arrogant jerk? Affleck phones it in, while English beauty Gemma Arterton is on hand as an ill-defined femme fatale.

The Puerto Rican shooting locations look superb on Fox’s 1080p, AVC-encoded transfer. Heavyweight cinematographer Mauro Fiore (he won an Oscar for Avatar) shot Runner Runner on35mm film. The gritty, warm, golden-tinged results look consistently outstanding on Blu-ray. On the audio side, the DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 soundtrack isn’t nearly as active as a typical thriller, but considering this one is talkier than most it’s entirely appropriate. The surround channels aren’t overly engaged, mostly supporting Christophe Beck’s score. Dialogue carries a healthy resonance, but overall this is a fairly typical mix for a film of this nature.

Runner Runner JT.jpgSometimes box office bombs are left seriously wanting in the special features department. While this Blu-ray isn’t packed, it does include ten minutes of uncommonly interesting deleted scenes a featurette called “House of Cards - The Inside Story of Online Poker.” While 17 minutes aren’t enough to really tell the full “inside story,” it’s at least about something more than simply promoting the movie.

Co-produced by Leonardo DiCaprio, Runner Runner is mildly recommended for ├╝ber fans of Justin Timberlake and/or Ben Affleck. Fox’s Blu-ray combo pack comes equipped with a standard DVD and an UltraViolet digital copy.

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Chaz Lipp writes for The Morton Report.

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