IT'S hard to believe Justin Timberlake once wooed the pigtails off Britney Spears when you know the paths their lives both took in the aftermath. But we were all young once. Some would say young, dumb and foolish - no matter how much we try to avoid being so.
Richie (Timberlake) is that young guy. He's at Princeton University though, so he's more often than not one of the smarter ones. Working as an affiliate for an online poker site, he gets cheated when he has a go. He knows he's been cheated. Then he turns foolish and decides to fly to Costa Rica to try and meet the site's creator Ivan (Ben Affleck).
For anyone else, things would not have ended up well and they would've been deep in it. For Richie, his smarts get him a job with Ivan and the attention of assistant Rebecca (Gemma Arterton). He brings his friends along for the ride, and it all goes great for a while.
The film tells you right off the bat that for some life is not worth living unless you can risk it all. Everyone can risk something, but taking that a step further to make it really pay off, or really hurt, is where a daring minority tests itself.
Brad Furman (The Lincoln Lawyer) plays on the increasing popularity of online gaming from his opening scene as news bulletins document what is becoming a global concern. Furman doesn't waste any opportunity to glamourise the underworld beneath the digital poker tables, showing Richie's step into the big league as lavish and extravagant surrounded by beautiful people and plenty of money.
Regular collaborators Brian Koppelman and David Levien (Ocean's Thirteen) offer a screenplay that focuses on the three major players and leaves a lot of potential action behind. This is more of a talker, good for those wanting a film deeper than A Good Day To Die Hard, but not great in overall substance.
There's a lot packed into an hour-and-a-half considering the story moves at a generally steady pace, but little things that don't add up or aren't given enough time to be explained become an annoyance. You know there's something big coming but it takes its time in getting there with filler plot.
An interesting cast releases a bit of that tension from the shoulders. While Arterton is given maximum opportunity to look beautiful (and succeeds), the boys don't scrub up as nice. Affleck is smarmy as Ivan reveals his playing cards bit by bit to reveal the cracks he thinks Richie can fix. Timberlake gives off a sense of impressionability as the central character, that young and foolish kid. His appearance assists that, but Timberlake is learning his way to bigger things.
Furman's chance to play big could itself seem foolish, with using big names against a so-so story. He manages to present a feature that keeps you interested, but only until the credits roll. Distributors should have thought about using a poker term as the title more thoroughly.
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