Runner Runner is the sort of generic crime thriller - stick-figure characters, pointless muddle of plot, people entering and exiting SUVs and Lear jets with a sense of urgency - that feels like it could drag on forever, and drag us down into a purgatory of stupefaction with it.
Justin Timberlake, with his boyish timbre and eyes like lakes, is Richie Furst, a Princeton grad student in trouble with the dean for running an online gambling operation (hey, those tuition costs!). Pretty darn certain that he's been the victim of a swindle, Richie heads for Costa Rica, where Ivan Block (Ben Affleck, broad-shouldering his way through the villainy) runs Midnight Black, a hugely lucrative Internet operation.
Richie confronts Ivan with spreadsheets and algorithms. Ivan is impressed and offers him a job. Gemma Arterton, deploying her best décolletage, is impressed, too, impressing herself on Richie when Ivan, her boss - and lover - isn't looking. OK, maybe he's looking, and maybe Arterton's oh-so-sophisticated Rebecca is in cahoots with him. Or maybe not.
Meanwhile, an FBI guy with dubious jurisdiction - that'd be Anthony Mackie - tries to get Richie to go undercover to expose Block and his $30 billion-a-year gambling scam. Throw in some mind-numbing poker-speak ("runner-runner flush in a hand of Texas Hold 'Em," anyone?) and various goons, thugs, hookers, corrupt Costa Rican government officials, and a pool of hungry crocodiles and you have . . . a mess.
Director Brad Furman (The Lincoln Lawyer), working with a templated screenplay and sun-splashed Puerto Rican scenery (subbing for Costa Rica), is among the guilty parties. His movie's requisite love clinch between Timberlake and Arterton is a blink-and-you-miss-it montage of cheekbone and shadowy palm fronds, torpedoed by a total lack of passion and panache.
Affleck gets one Pacino-esque bad guy speech, and gets to occupy space in fancy spas and fancy villas as he tries to project an air of sinister charm. His fancy yacht is called the House, because, as he explains to Timberlake, "the house always wins."
The house, in Runner Runner's case, is Twentieth Century Fox, certain to make each and every ticket buyer feel like a loser.
Runner Runner *1/2 (Out of four stars)
Directed by Brad Furman. With Ben Affleck, Gemma Arterton, and Justin Timberlake. Distributed by Twentieth Century Fox.
Running time: 1 hour, 31 mins.
Parent's guide: R (profanity, violence, adult themes)
Playing at: area theaters