19 January 2000 | Kindo
Are you game?
After being imprisoned for six years on a grand theft auto charge, Rudy Duncan(Ben Affleck) and his cellmate Nick (HILARY AND JACKIE's James Frain) are finally going to be paroled. After hearing endless stories during his incarceration of Nick's romantic correspondence to a woman named Ashley he has never met (CIDER HOUSE RULES's Charlize Theron), Rudy is looking forward to returning to his family and having a fresh cup of hot chocolate. When Nick is killed during a prison riot, Rudy decides to assume Nick's identity upon release from prison and meet up with the unknown woman. Burdened with a base knowledge of Nick's Indian casino employment past, Rudy finds himself in too deep with Ashley's brother Gabriel (Gary Sinise) and is violently forced to cooperate with a casino robbery that Gabriel and his gang have been planning with Nick in mind.
From an original screenplay by Ehren Kruger, REINDEER is very much in the same vein as his last script ARLINGTON ROAD. While much more of an action film than the paranoia drenched ROAD, REINDEER holds it's deceptions very close to it's heart as well. Who can you trust, and for how long? Helmed by esteemed director John Frankenheimer (THE MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE, RONIN), REINDEER seems keenly aware of it's inane story, yet he keeps pushing the proceedings along briskly, trying to keep this casino heist plot afloat with good actors and a passable script. It's fun just to watch this tale unfold. All the professionals involved know this material isn't CITIZEN KANE, but as action films go nowadays, REINDEER's restraint is it's most endearing aspect. No pop culture references, not too many exploding fireballs, and Frankenheimer keeps the edit count down. REINDEER GAMES is a far more classy film than it's brethren.
It takes some time to get used to Ben Affleck as a tough ex-con. His baby face and peanut brittle voice do little to sell him as an action hero. As REINDEER trudges along, you get used to watching him act tough. It isn't the best performance that's come out of him (I'll save that honor for DOGMA), but Affleck is a likable enough guy and makes Rudy a character you want to see save the day. Imagine an aging lead vocalist for a Black Sabbath cover band and you'll have an idea what Gary Sinse looks like in REINDEER. He always makes a great passionate villain, but this time he takes his appearance one step further and actually looks like a threat. Charlize Theron keeps improving as an actress, but it is her new brunette look and honey smile that one takes away from her performance. She looks lovely in the snow, but not too much presence beyond that. The whole cast is somewhat stuck with Kruger's elementary script, and they all try hard to overcome it. It ends up being their individual charms that make REINDEER come out a winner.
I liked REINDEER GAMES for the throwaway Christmas thriller that it is. Taking advantage of the topical Native American casino boom and deliberately waltzing away from many clichés, GAMES is a pleasure to enjoy. We need more of these. ----- 8