This was in between. It wasn’t bad, it was actually entertaining (I didn’t leave to pee!), but it was ridiculous. Reediculous. And the dialogue! Oh the dialogue! It was incredible. Bad, of course, but so incredible.
The movie concerns the trials and tribulations of Richie Furst (Justin Timberlake) (terrible name), a Princeton grad student who’s paying for school by acting as an affiliate for an online gambling website. This means that for every player he directs to this site, he gets money. Of course, he’s directing fellow students to the site, and of course online gambling is prohibited on campus. (At this point in the movie, about 3 minutes in, my companion turned to me and whispered, “I thought this was about drugs!” It just as easily could have been. The vice in question can be swapped out for anything you’d prefer without affecting the story.)
Pissed and broke, Richie flies to Costa Rica to confront the top man at the gambling site in person. Let’s say that again. He’s broke – we saw him bet every dollar in his savings account - but he can afford a flight to Costa Rica and a place to stay. Cool. Also, let’s say the other thing again too – he thinks he can just land in a country and magically find this corrupt billionaire and give him a talking to. Okay.
Funny thing is, Richie actually does easily find the guy/CEO/corrupt billionaire Ivan Block (Ben Affleck) (oh these names)! One minute Richie’s on the plane, the next he is at a schmancy party finagling an invite to a second schmancy party, which Block is promised to attend. Okay. It’s at the second schmancefest that Richie finds a security camera and holds up a piece of paper on which he’s written, in magic ink that appears when he shines a flashlight onto it, something along the lines of ‘Your site cheated me’ ‘Come find me so we can chat about it over tea’ and stuff. About 2 seconds later, security guards pick him up and – no, they don’t throw him out of the party – they bring him straight to Block.
Actually, now I think I love this movie.
So, in front of Block’s inner posse, in the middle of this crazy balls-to-the-wall party, Richie says all calm and matter-of-factly, “Your site cheated me, I had a Princeton math PhD run the figures, some cog in your machine is corrupted, I wanted to tell you in person to get the truth and have you handle it because I trust you, corrupt billionaire stranger.” Block says thank you, and Richie returns to his crappy hotel room. But the next morning, some muscles knock on Richie’s door, and they take him to a huge sailboat, where Block is waiting. He offers Richie a job. Because he respects Richie for coming to him directly because that whole thing was brave and noble and feasible and everything. Richie of course accepts the promise of fast-arriving millions and one day billions, and Block responds with the funniest line in the movie, “When someone gives you a choice between ‘X’ and ‘returning to New Jersey’, the correct answer is always ‘X’”. Har har.
Yeah, so Richie starts working for Block and quickly becomes his right-hand man. He’s all suave and fancily dressed but naïve and trusting, because we all know shit is gonna go down. Richie falls for Block’s sort-of girlfriend sort-of corporate manager Rebecca, played by Gemma Arterton. At another party, Richie and Rebecca are flirting heavily, and then the best part of the movie happens. Some muscles on Block’s payroll tell Richie that Block is looking for him on the dock. We go with Richie to find him, and do you know what Block is doing? You will never guess. He is THROWING FROZEN CHICKENS INTO THE WATER FOR THE WAITING CROCODILES TO EAT. It warrants caps. Is this the first time this act has ever been documented on film? I think so. It epitomized the entire film perfectly: You’re like, wtf is happening, this is crazy! And then you’re like, ok but crocodiles do like chicken. That’s the movie.
From this point on, you get your standard naïve-guy-falls-into-bad-business-with-a-bad-guy-and-lots-of-thugs-and-has-to-find-his-way-out-or-else. We have the always brilliant Anthony Mackie as the FBI agent on duty in Costa Rica, who seems to know everything about Block’s dirty business but can’t do anything about it. We have Richie’s father, a lifelong gambler with heavy debts, who becomes a pawn in Block’s arsenal of blackmail fodder. We have lots and lots of corrupt Costa Rican officials on Block’s payroll. And we have the white, male, math/computer whiz who alerts Richie that things are effed up beyond belief and then disappears. Obviously, this was all very entertaining but absurd. But the best part is when Richie goes to deliver a bribe to an official, and gets really badly beaten up when the officials sees that the amount of money is too little. So, Block knowingly sent Richie into this situation, and Richie is of course angry. And then Ben Affleck wins another Oscar in the following exchange (paraphrased):
Richie: You knew this would happen! How did you know I would even get out alive?
Block: This is your job. You want a clear conscience, go start a charity. But if you want your own island, and your boss says you gotta go out there and take a beating, go out there, take it, and come back to work and say 'Do you need me to do it again'?!?!?!
Something like that. It was so funny.
Richie’s plan to extricate himself despite how far deep he’s gone is never really revealed, probably because if we got more than bits and spurts it wouldn’t make sense. But it’s all well and good, because who cares how he gets himself out. He’s an idiot for getting into it in the first place, right? All you New Jersey lovers would be proud that the moral of this story is apparently ‘X’ is not necessarily the right answer. And Ben Affleck can be scary. My favorite thing about this movie, though, was hearing an older lady go, “That blond boy, I’ve never seen him before but he was very good!” Amazing.