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Reindeer Games (2000)

14 December 2005 by Gnoll No Comment


2000, dir. John Frankenheimer
104 min. Rated R.
Starring: Charlize Theron, The Bomb in Phantoms, Lieutenant Dan.

Review by Gnoll

You know how when you were a kid, and you used to sing “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” with your schoolmates, you added your own little remarks at the end of each verse? You know, after when the line “they wouldn’t let poor Rudolph join in any reindeer games”, you’d say “like Monopoly!”, or when you got older, “like strip poker!” and your teacher would get mad at you? Well, I’ve recently made a plea to everyone I know to have that line changed. Instead of “like Monopoly”, the proper remark should be “Like Ben Affleck!”.

As you can probably imagine, it’s been a pretty fruitless effort trying to get this catchphrase to take flight. That’s probably because so many people have spent so long trying to forget Reindeer Games, John Frankenheimer’s tribute to the ridiculous. Penned by one-time Hollywood “it” boy Ehren Kruger, this film is a prime example of what happens when producers approve screenplays while under heavy intoxication.

I promise I won’t rag on you for Aeon Flux if you don’t rag on me for my, uh, whole career.

Yes, Reindeer Games is one of the worst movies ever made. It’s a “thriller” without any thrills, it’s an “action” movie with very little action. It’s just really bad, and I’ll explain just why. Spoilers galore will follow, because really, if you’re reading this, you probably either have seen it or don’t care to. Or, if you’re like me, you’ll read how ridiculous this thing is and have a desire to see it just to see if it’s for real.

This is the story of Rudy, a convict who is serving five hard years for Grand Theft Auto. He and his cellmate Nick are supposed to be released from prison in a few days. Rudy has nothing to look forward to outside of a cup of hot cocoa and a slice of pecan pie, but Nick has been keeping in cummunication with a beautiful girl named Ashley, who sends him pictures and love letters despite the fact that he’s a convicted killer who she’s never even seen a photograph of in her life.

As you can probably imagine, almost all women who engage in correspondence with criminals look like Charlize Theron. So, of course, when Rudy’s pal Nick gets knifed in a prison food fight, Rudy opts to play the role of his dead cellmate and enjoy the fruits of Nick’s labors for himself. After an awkward beginning, Rudy and Ashley are making the beast with two backs, and all the while she thinks he’s Nick.

But it turns out there’s more to Ashley’s communiques to Nick. See, it turns out she has a crazy brother named Gabriel who has discovered that Nick used to work in an Indian casino, and will serve to help plan a robbery of that location for Gabriel and his thugs. Rudy then alternates between “I’m Nick!” and “I’m not Nick!” approximately fourteen thousand times before Gabriel lets him live.

Rudy agrees to case the joint, stating that the place has been remodeled in the last few years, so he and Ashley make a run through dressed in cowboy disguises. Somewhere along the way, Rudy makes his first attempt at escaping Gabriel’s thugs, but winds up falling in to a frozen lake and nearly becoming an Affleck-cicle in the process. Gabriel recaptures Rudy and chains him up in his hotel room, but thanks to Rudy’s Macgyver-like skills, he fashions a screwdriver out of a throwing dart and frees himself. Of course, this is when the first of many twists unfolds.

Turns out Ashley and Gabriel aren’t really brother and sister after all, they’re an item. This whole thing is a ploy by the thugs into getting Nick, being played by Rudy, to cooperate. Rudy says “fuck this” and tries to escape, but winds up stuck back in his hotel room awaiting the casino heist.

On Christmas Eve, the heist begins. The gang shows up at the casino (in Santa Claus suits, naturally) and starts shooting up the place. When they get to the main office, Rudy’s real identity is revealed, and Gabriel’s plans start to fall apart. All his thugs wind up pushing up daisies, and the fruits of the heist aren’t quite what they hoped for.

Gabriel and Ashley kidnap Rudy and take him to the middle of a field to kill him. Of course, after spending fifteen minutes describing to him how they are going to kill him, Ashley fucks up and reveals too much. Big twist number two happens, and she not only kills Gabriel, but Nick shows up and he and Ashley explain to Rudy how this was all their big plan from the beginning! Of course, so that we all know exactly what’s going on, Nick explains every single detail of how they pulled it off. Of course, they point guns the whole time, but apparently banter with Rudy is more important than killing him. Oh, and rather than shooting Rudy in the head, they feel the need to do something a bit more dramatic, so they lock him in the getaway car and set it on fire while it rolls down a hill. Of course, we all remember what landed Rudy in jail to begin with, right? So yeah, everything comes up roses for our hero Rudy, except that when it’s all said and done, he’s still Ben Affleck.

The first twist in the movie is so predictable that anyone who has seen a thriller with an attractive female in it should be ashamed of themselves if they didn’t figure it out long before it happened. The second twist, however, comes so far from left field that you’d only think of it if you were looking for the most illogical, unrealistic outcome possible. I would have seriously been more convinced if it turned out that Ashley was an alien from the third moon of Neptune.

Unfortunately, more time is spent in this movie talking about what’s going to happen than stuff actually happening. And, as you can probably tell, the stupid twists are so convoluted and far-fetched that the practically negate their own existence. There’s just too many possibilities of what could go wrong that no sane person would ever seriously conjure up something that stupid.

Kruger’s screenplay is so ridiculous that you wonder just how this managed to get made for any outlet other than basic cable. In fact, I’d guess that if it somehow didn’t attract the talent it did, that’s where it would have wound up. Ben Affleck was still somewhat relevant in 2000, so his presence helped get this thing into theaters, and Gary Sinise and Charlize Theron are usually decent enough actors to make anything they touch rise slightly in quality. And while Theron does the best you could possible expect with this abhorrent script, Sinise shows more ham here than a Christmas dinner. Donal Logue is far too talented to be wasted as a thug here, and Dennis Farina manages to play the exact same character he has in every other film he’s ever appeared in.

And then there’s Affleck. Oh, boy, there’s Affleck. Somewhere along the line, somebody told Ben Affleck that he was a bankable star (I’m looking in your direction, Kevin Smith) and not only did he believe it, so did a handful of Hollywood producers. Even after Phantoms and Forces of Nature bombed and his performances in Armageddon and Shakespeare in Love were laughed at, some people still thought he would be a viable leading man. He’s so bad here that it almost looks like he’s in on a joke. The scene where he’s eating his pecan pie is hysterical, and it’s not because it’s written that way. And to make it worse, director John Frankenheimer thought it would be a good idea to try and cast Affleck as an action hero, proving the fact that some people really are as boneheaded as Michael Bay.

And yes, you did read that right: This film was directed by John Frankenheimer, who forty years ago was making stuff like Birdman of Alcatraz, The Manchurian Candidate, and The Iceman Cometh. If course, in the mid 90’s, he did make the colossal turd The Island of Dr. Moreau, so choosing such a stinker here shouldn’t be such a surprise.

The moral of Reindeer Games, apparently, is that all women are inherently evil manipulators and that all men are pawns that are tossed aside when their usefulness runs out. Oh, and top it all off, there’s a lovely Robin Hood ending to appease all the bleeding heart viewers out there who just spent the last hour and a half watching sordid gunplay.

So next time you hear the strains of everyone’s favorite Christmas song about a crimson-snouted buck, make sure you remember what to chant when the line about reindeer games comes up. It’ll surely make your holiday season more merry.

Jersey Girl

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