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Reindeer Games

***
2000

‘…traditional noir story, jazzed up with a game cast and some jagged violence. When hardly a must see, it’s decent enough Saturday night fare…’

Also knows as Deception, a generic title if ever there was one, John Frankenheimer’s final film was widely derided back in 2000 and it’s certainly not cut from the same cloth as The Manchurian Candidate or Seconds. But critics slather over Ronin, which always seemed a little flat to me, and Reindeer Games is the same kind of traditional noir story, jazzed up with a game cast and some jagged violence. When hardly a must see, it’s decent enough Saturday night fare.

Rudy (Ben Affleck) is a car thief in jail; his best pal is killed in a prison riot, but not before he’s imparted a huge amount of exposition about casino heists. Rudy hooks up with his cell-mate’s girlfriend Ashley (Charlize Theron), but she turns out to be a little too familiar with a gang of gun-runners led by the manic Gabriel (Gary Sinese). Gabriel and his posse demand that Rudy leads their heist, even though none of them have ever robbed anything before. Dressed in Santa costumes, Rudy, Ashley, Gabriel and all decend on an Indian casino run by Dennis Farina, and a bloodbath predictable results when things go down twisted.

Reindeer Games goes on too long, and makes a meal of scenes that might have been better excluded; Gabriel’s torturing of Rudy by flinging darts at him seems to go on for an age. Affleck doesn’t seem that committed in a role that would have been better suited to original star Vin Diesel, Theron dry-runs a femme fatale routine, and there’s cool support from Isaac Hayes and Dennis Farina, plus cameos from Ashton Kutcher and Ron Jeremy. And there’s a chance to see Danny Trejo reading Business Week magazine, a novelty in itself and a sign the film isn’t as serious as the swagger might suggest.

This was a big studio production, lined up for a prestigious Christmas slot, and there are vestiges of that pomp; the darts scene pays off when Rudy ingeniously uses a dart as a screwdriver to free himself of an ankle-chain and allow him to scout around a local hotel, while there’s another sharp gag involving a cigar and a water pistol filled with gasoline. Such biting moments suggest a better movie could be made with these elements, but at least there’s a big fiery finale and a cool little postscript to ensure that Frankenheimer’s storied career ends on a high note.

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  1. Any Frankenheimer is always worth a look. Affleck never convinced me in this one and Theron was wasted, but not bad as heist films go and the Santa Claus notion worked well.

    • It makes more sense now that I know Frankenheimer fell out with Vin Diesel. The whole narrative is built around a Diesel character, Affleck really doesn’t fit this part. Still, better than 99/44 out of 100 Dead or whatever that was…

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