Director: Brad Furman.
Cast: Justin Timberlake, Ben Affleck, Gemma Arterton, Anthony Mackie.
WHENEVER a character in a movie stumbles upon something that seems too good to be true, it usually is.
Some good examples are those little kids in Charlie & The Chocolate Factories, who think they're going to get all the candy they can handle but end up maimed or slaughtered or eaten by killer squirrels.
In Runner Runner, Justin Timberlake's Richie Furst is like the kid with the golden ticket, while the idyllic playground of online casinos run from Costa Rica is the chocolate factory.
Furst is a ballsy chap - after losing his tuition fees via internet poker, he confronts the site's owner Ivan Block (Affleck) in person in Costa Rica with proof that he was cheated out of his money.
Block, recognising Furst as a sharp operator, hires him to help run his gambling empire, dangling carrots of seven-figure wages, million-dollar boats, beautiful women, and the paradise of Latin America to lure him away from Princeton and his life in New Jersey.
Furst takes to the job with relish, but soon finds out - much like Verucca Salt and Augustus Gloop - that greed is not good and that everything has a price.
Stylistically, of course, Runner Runner is a mile away from adaptations of Roald Dahl's book. This is more akin John Grisham's The Firm, with its increasing suffocation and growing darkness, while its setting and whirl of bright lights and babes brings to mind something Bond-like.
Furman's camera captures the contrasts of Latin America, from the lavish parties of the rich gringos flauting the laws, down to the local officials happy to take their cut, and even further down to the poor residents who see little of their wealth.
But ultimately this thriller is driven by its leads and its world. Timberlake's character is intriguing, walking that fine line between daring and naivety, and its pulled off nicely by the singer-actor, like a less swaggering version of his Sean Parker in The Social Network.
Affleck's turn is a little shakier at times but he's predominantly good. Its nice to see him playing against type and embraces the smarm and slickness of Block, but occasionally lacks the necessary menace.
Arterton gets a little short-changed, given that her character is perhaps the most intriguing. She plays Rebecca, an assistant to Block who takes a shine to Furst, but her motives remain unexplored, leaving her with little to do despite a nice set-up.
The film moves quickly at first, mostly to blow past the fact that its premise is hard to swallow, but it settles into an attractive pace as the tension rises.
Far from perfect, Runner Runner looks great and is driven by another strong performance, who is shaping up to be one of the few true triple-threats left in Hollywood these days.