By Bo Rhodes
People are probably wondering why a movie entitled Reindeer Games is being released after the Christmas movie glut. The answer to this oh-so profound question is, "so the holiday season wasn’t ruined."
Director John Frankenheimer’s (The Manchurian Candidate, Ronin) latest creation is such a bad movie, it’s hard to pick the one thing that makes it as painful to watch as having a root canal with a chisel.
The story begins with Rudy Duncan (current flavour-of-the-month Ben Affleck) doing time for car theft. He and cellmate Nick (James Frain) will be released in two days and, while Rudy is only looking forward to a cup of hot chocolate, Nick is eagerly anticipating the awaiting arms of Ashley (Charlize Theron) whom he met through pen-pal letters. Without giving too much away, Nick dies during a prison riot "forcing" Rudy to pretend that he’s the dead convict so poor little Ashley is not broken-hearted when the real Nick doesn’t show.
The only thing coming between the star-crossed lovers is Gabriel (Gary Sinise), Ashley’s loony brother. Gabriel and his gun-running buddies plan to rob a casino where Nick once worked, and he needs Nick’s assistance to pull the job off. Mayhem and wackiness ensue as Rudy tries to convince Gabriel that he’s the man for the job.
The first major flaw of the film lies in the casting of Affleck as a hardened criminal. The opening narration by Affleck about the hardships of prison is laughable at best. This guy couldn’t steal gum let alone a car and the audience seems to know it. The alternating rough convict/whiney bitch routine is frustrating and does little to enhance the already lacking believability of the character. Too much of the movie is spent with Rudy trying to weasel his way out of the predicament. For an action flick to be effective, the talking should be kept to a minimum.
The role of Ashley is equally hard to swallow. Looking for love through pen-pal letters to convicts is apparently perfectly natural–it’s a wonder more women don’t access the pile of gentle, caring inmates in the world. Theron has established herself as an up-and-coming force in Hollywood and should be beyond gratuitous nudity but has no problem showing the goods. It doesn’t move the story along and seems to only fulfill the base interests of male viewers. The same can be said for the female viewers when Ben’s toothpaste-white ass makes an unnecessary appearance.
Sinise’s performance comes across as tired and forced. It’s not hard to see why, though, when the script and surrounding characters give him so little to work with.
The plot does take some unusual turns but the glacier-like pacing of the film detracts from any salvation to be had. As far as action films go, Reindeer Games is sub-par at best and the constant dialogue is better suited to a made-for TV movie. At least with TV, though, you can change the channel.