a critiQal film review Reindeer Games (2000)

  • DVD
  • Blu-Ray

Plot: After his friend Nick dies in a prison riot days before they are set to be released, car thief Rudy Duncan (Affleck) poses as Nick in order to appease Nick's pen pal gal Ashley (Theron). Unfortunately, Ashley's gun-running brother Gabriel (Sinise) has other plans for "Nick" - a daring casino robbery Gabriel has been planning with Nick in mind.

608 words (Est. Reading Time 3m 2s)
  • Theron shines past a bit of a miscast Affleck in a thriller that's not as bad as the critics thought.

Ben Affleck starring in a Christmas movie? Yes, that’s right – and no, it’s not
the awful Surviving Christmas. Instead, it’s an action thriller that got equally bad reviews. Titled Reindeer Games this critical boo-fest co-starred Charlize Theron and Gary Sinise, among others.

Since other critics and I don’t always see eye-to-eye, however, that wasn’t going to stop me from checking this one out back in ’00, and, from what I can remember, I didn’t think it was that bad. Now, however, with Christmas fast approaching and not quite yet in the mood for a cheery Holiday sap-fest, I figured it was time to give Reindeer Games another go. Would my tastes have changed in the past decade-plus, or is Reindeer Games still off the naughty list?

Ben Affleck isn’t quite a solid fit for the part. With his clean-cut looks and baby face, viewers can’t exactly picture him as a convict, so he starts off on a bad foot with the audience. Still, as his character isn’t exactly a hardened gangster, the viewer tends to overlook that a bit more – especially once he’s released, which thankfully happens quickly. For the rest of the film, he’s the “nice guy” in the crowd of criminals, and fits in much more easily.

Charlize Theron, on the other hand, seems to get more impressive the more the viewer sees her. While this role at first seems like a letdown from the actress who took on Monster (2003), her acting ability shines through, breathing new life into her role. This is especially noteworthy during the first awkward Affleck / Theron coffee shop meeting, as she makes what seems to be a thinly-veiled plot vehicle and delivers a believable character who instantly captures a bit of the viewer’s affection.

Gary Sinise, the bad guy of the bunch, looks a bit different with his long hair, especially for viewers who are used to seeing him sporting a much shorter style in his current CSI: NY (TV) role. Still, he’s easily recognizable and turns in a decent performance, although after seeing what he can do in films like Apollo 13 (1995), “decent” is still a let-down.

There are a lot more familiar faces in the crowd as well, with Dennis Farina, Danny Trejo, Isaac Hayes and Donal Logue (among others) also among the cast. Nobody really stands out, but each plays their part decently enough to keep the viewer interested.

As the film unfolds, it does a decent job fooling the viewer with a few different twists and turns along the way, and should keep the audience entertained throughout. While it’s not exactly a cheery holiday film (the beginning sequence showcases a grisly bevy of dead Santas), Reindeer Games is definitely an action thriller worthy of a Christmas-time viewing, rather than it’s originally end-of-February release date (which may have been the biggest thing the critics really had to complain about).

Sure, Reindeer Games is by no means perfect. But, with Charlize Theron’s impressive acting shining through even in this film, Sinise and the rest performing decently around her, and even the slightly miscast Affleck working to help the film along, Reindeer Games should keep the viewer entertained. Toss in a script that won’t have the viewer groaning, a few surprising twists and turns, and really, what more do you need in an action thriller like this one?

Check out Reindeer Games this Holiday season, and to keep the Christmas vibe going, why not refill the egg nog and follow it up with Die Hard (1988), and wait for Christmas Eve day to break into the feel-good Christmas flicks like A Christmas Story or Miracle on 34th Street.

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