Friday, October 25, 2013

Fix-It Friday: Runner Runner

Welcome to another edition of Fix-It Fridays!  Today we're fixing Runner Runner.  Justin Timberlake and Ben Affleck have done some pretty decent movies and I had high hopes that this would be another.  Alas, my hopes were not to be realized.  You ready?  Let's fix this motha.


You know what I love?  Sympathetic protagonists.  I went to go see Runner Runner thinking it would be decent and twisty and actiony. I failed to take into account the fact that in order for a twisty thriller to be satisfying, you have to actually want the protagonist to get away and live happily ever after.  When you kind of want him to be eaten by alligators, the movie can feel like it goes on for-ev-er even if it's only ninety minutes long.

Justin Timerberlake's character?  Yeah, he's pretty much a douche.

Former Wall Street muckety muck.  He was on the way to being a big shot financial tycoon, wheeling and dealing with other people's money to make mad bank for himself, but then the house of cards crashed down and through NO FAULT OF HIS OWN AT ALL he was left penniless.  But never fear!  Justin got into Princeton for his MBA!  Unfortunately, Justin made so much money when he was on Wall Street (none of which he still has) that he is ineligible for financial aid (cue the tiny violins).  Instead of taking a FREAKING STUDENT LOAN, as any normal human being would do, since those are not dependent of previous income levels, Justin becomes an affiliate for off-shore gambling sites, funneling online poker players to certain websites for a commission.  But that isn't gonna get him his tuition fast enough, so he goes on a gambling streak of his own where he proceeds to build up a massive amount of cash, then lose it all in one go.

But it's not his fault!  No!  He couldn't have just been stupid or unlucky!  He was conned.  He uses someone else's super math powers to deduce that the online poker site really did rip him off.  Goes down to Costa Rica to confront the head of the company, who thanks him for detecting the glitch, gives him a stack of cash, and offers him a job. It seems too good to be true (and of course it is) but Justin snaps up the chance to be insultingly rich (as opposed to just disgustingly rich), walks away from Princeton and becomes the off-shore gambling site's golden boy.

The misogynistic boss (Dear Ole Ben) is the bad guy who is being stalked by the FBI.  The FBI guys are all assholes - who threaten Our Boy, telling him that being an affiliate for a gaming site while on the Princeton campus was a felony.  Really.  A felony.  It might get him kicked out of school, but life in prison?  Are you freaking kidding me?

There are a lot of logical inconsistencies like that in this particular film - like why, if gambling is LEGAL in the country where they have set up shop, since that is WHY they set up shop there, they would then need to bribe everyone and their brother in order to continue operating there.  Unless bribery is just a way of life, in which case I think the tourism board of Costa Rica is well within their rights to sue Runner Runner for defamation of character, but I digress...

Ignoring all the logical wobbles (as much as that pains me to do), the real problem of this film is the lack of a sympathetic main character.  So let's fix that.

First off, there is NO GOOD REASON for Justin to have a history as a Wall Street douche.  It never comes into play and it just makes him look like an asshat who made a lot of money and went through it like it was nothing.  Later in the film, a father with a gambling addiction is used as leverage against our guy.  So why not start there?  His dad is a gambler and he is the young, undergrad student struggling to put himself through Princeton when his father comes to him and claims that he was ripped off online.  Our hero doesn't believe him at first, blaming the dad, but when he looks into it, he uses his OWN super math skills to deduce that his dad was, in fact, ripped off.  He tries to contact the site about the error and the responses is an all expenses paid trip down to meet the boss himself.  Our hero is nervous but as a young guy (I'd make him twenty, not even really legal to drink yet), he's swept away by the wealth and power which is more than he's ever seen.  He's also attracted to the idea of working for the house, because the house always wins and that's something he's learned very well in his life as the son of a gambler.  If he's younger, smart but naive (and not someone who has already made a living at the expense of others), then he becomes much more sympathetic as he is swept away by the lifestyle.  Then, later, when his father's debts are bought by his Boss, he will realize how much he is owned by the choices he made and we won't be thinking "Well, that's what you get, douchebag."

The story is an old one.  It's Faust.  It's the devil's bargain.  It's temptation without looking at the price.  But if the guy signing the devil's bargain is a jerk, you kind of root for the devil to win - or in the case of this movie, for everyone to lose.  They did win in one way... they won the race to the theatres, beating The Counselor onto screens (since they seem to have very similar plots & themes).  Other than that?  Not much win here.

Though at least all the people are pretty.  And I really loved the alligators.

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