Here in the vault I continue to chip away at my long overdue watch list. The flick today features Ben Affleck who’s all the rage thanks to the phenomenal Gone Girl and his upcoming portrayal of Batman in the next Superman film. The actor has come a long way, especially when you consider films like the 1999 Christmas film Reindeer Games, which by the by released in February 2000.
Rudy Duncan (Ben Affleck) and Nick Cassidy (James Frain) are cellmates at Iron Mountain who are just a couple of days away from freedom. Nick’s anxious to meet his penpal-turned-true-love Ashley (Charlize Theron) while all Rudy wants is a mug of hot chocolate and pecan pie. After Nick is stabbed during a food fight, Rudy is set free and decides not to let Ashley’s pie go to waste. His ruse is going beautifully until Ashley’s brother Gabriel (Gary Sinise) shows up. He and his three boys Merlin (Clarence Williams III), Pug (Donal Logue), and Jumpy (Danny Trejo), thinking him Nick, pound him into the ground. Rudy tries to confess, but Ashley convinces him the truth will only get him killed faster. Gabriel and his crew demand “Nick” assist them in robbing a casino he used to work security for. Rudy, with little options left, has to use his wits to con the con-men long enough for an opportunity to escape.
Sadly, Reindeer Games is the final feature from director John Frankenheimer. Famous for The?Manchurian Candidate and Ronin, Frankenheimer’s last picture would end up a box office flop. Not surprising considering it’s the work of writer Ehren Kruger. Reindeer Games?joins the long list of Kruger’s bad films,?Scream 3, The Ring,?The Brothers Grimm, the?Transformers sequels), I’ve seen.
One could easily lay the blame for Games‘ awfulness at Affleck’s feet, but it’d be misplaced. At this point in Affleck’s career, he’s a long ways from being the studly hero, but his role as an opportunistic ex-con means he mostly deserves the crap he endures and audiences don’t necessarily have to like him. He’s given enough quips and comic encounters to make him a funny guy, even if he can’t carry the more serious scenes.
The film’s heavy lifting is done by Charlize Theron. At this point in her career, she’s partnered with popular actors like Affleck who haven’t quite come into their own. As Ashley, she’s the giddy girlfriend, the frightened damsel, and the tough-ass broad all rolled into one. Sinise plays a formidable Gabriel even if he had to utter the ridiculous line, “Are you playing reindeer games with me?” I was stoked to see his thugs were a cavalcade of solid character actors even if the three of them aren’t given much of shit to do besides stand around and look menacing. It’s also a blast to see the late Dennis Farina as the casino owner even if it isn’t given the meatiest of roles.
The casting isn’t the problem. Even most of the action sequences are pretty thrilling; in particular the casino heist. No, the problem lies with unraveling the convoluted turd jumble that is the plot. Contrived and contradictory aren’t strong enough words to describe it. What makes it worse is the unraveling relies on heavy discourse, i.e. the cast has to spoon feed what audiences have witnessed because it is so far-fetched no one will logically arrive at the finale on their own. If you are unfortunate enough to be subjected to Reindeer Games, just remember there are worse Ben Affleck movies out there.