Welcome to Thursday Trailer Face-Off, a feature in which we cast a critical eye on two similar upcoming film releases, pitting them against each other across a variety of categories to determine which is most deserving of your two hours. This week: Runner, Runner vs. Paranoia, two films about men from humble beginnings who find themselves in serious trouble once they get a taste of how the other half lives.PremiseRunner, Runner stars Justin Timberlake as an underprivileged Princeton student looking to pay his steep college tuition bills by winning big in the world of online poker. He’s so good that the only way he could lose is if he’s being cheated, which he is. Timberlake goes after the site’s shady owner (played by Ben Affleck), who, in return for his cooperation, introduces him to the life of luxury. Timberlake’s character quickly learns that being a high roller comes at a high price. Paranoia follows a similar plotline, with Liam Hemsworth playing a boy genius born and raised in Brooklyn, trying to climb his way to the top in order to “take care of his old man.” He starts off with an entry-level job at a powerful corporation, but soon finds himself with a new suit, a new car, and a new job: spying on billionaires. Both stories are nothing new—the protagonists rise, they fall, the FBI gets involved, you probably know how it’s going to end—but Runner, Runner appears to have more complex characters and nail-biting action.Advantage: Runner, Runner
Rags to RichesIt’s hard to imagine either Liam Hemsworth or Justin Timberlake pulling himself up by his bootstraps, but in these films, their characters undergo serious makeovers. “Good morning,” a chic-looking British woman says to a shirtless Liam Hemsworth as he wakes up in a luxury apartment. “We’re reinventing you.” Cue rap/techno music and scenes of glistening pools, stacks of money, flashy cars revving their engines, and beautiful women dancing. They’ve entered the place were “everything is possible,” and it’s hard not to find yourself enticed. While Justin Timberlake’s character looks like he’s having the most fun, he’s not the one being handed the keys to a sports car by shaven-headed Harrison Ford.Advantage: Paranoia
VillainsBen Affleck plays the kind of villain who wears his Hawaiian shirts slightly unbuttoned and owns a boat called “Winner.” Even when Affleck is playing the villain though, we’re always on his side, so it’s slightly jarring to see him in a role where he mercilessly throws people into the hungry jaws of crocodiles. It’s his Boston accent versus the British Gary Oldman in Paranoia, and although you never want to mess with an angry Brit (or an angry Gary Oldman), we’re curious to see Affleck step into the bad side.Advantage: Runner, Runner
The Innocent GirlA life of riches and success always comes the beautiful woman who gets swept off her feet, and ultimately swept up into the mess that our hero has created for himself. In Paranoia, Amber Heard stars as the sassy Princeton graduate who smiles willingly when Liam Hemsworth proposes that she help him “sleep his way to the top.” Of course, she’s also sleeping with the enemy, figuratively speaking, which makes things a little complicated. Gemma Arterton stars in Runner, Runner as Justin Timberlake’s bombshell sidekick. When she finds out what he’s gotten himself into, she suits up and offers to help instead of running in the other direction. Both female leads don’t mess around, but we like a girl who’s actually willing to put up a fight. Advantage: Runner, Runner
Boy GeniusesDespite the fact that one character went to Yale and the other to Princeton, they both end up making terribly uneducated decisions. Justin Timberlake is a computer whiz and Liam Hemsworth hones his skills by taking electronics apart in his basement and putting them back together. With a little hard work and a lot of good looks, they both make it to the top, but when their supposed mentors lead them astray, they refuse to go down without a fight. As an actor, Timberlake is able to play a convincing tech geek, unlike Hemsworth, who is really great at playing a smarter version of, well, himself.Advantage: Runner, Runner
The VerdictSlow-motion shots of Liam Hemsworth diving into pools and running along the Brooklyn Bridge are always a welcome sight for audiences, but the plotline and characters in Paranoia fall a little short. Seeing Justin Timberlake and Ben Affleck play their opposites—and play them well—makes us want to take a gamble on Runner, Runner.Winner: Runner, Runner
Trailer Face-Off runs every Thursday. For more, click here.