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Reindeer Games

Rated [R], 98 minutes
Starring Ben Affleck, Charlize Theron, Gary Sinise
Screenplay by Ehren Kruger
Directed by John Frankenheimer

IN SHORT: Just an average thrill ride.

So here we have a movie with a Christmas theme, coming at us in February. Starting with two pasty white boys in a maximum security prison called Iron Mountain. Nick Cassady (James Frain), is finishing a two year pop for smashing in the head of some dweeb who messed with his ex-girlfriend. Nick's only thought, now that freedom is near, is to getting a piece of babelicious pen pal Ashley (Charlize Theron). Pictures of the bikini clad babe line the walls and all letters are shared with Nick's cellmate Rudy Duncan (Ben Affleck), usually found working off his sexual frustration down on the floor doing pushups and showing off his jail tattoos. Two days later, Rudy walks out the gates, a free man. Nick, for reasons left unsaid, doesn't. Waiting outside the gate is the girl of Nick's dreams, waiting to meet the man she's never seen. After a wee bit of deep thought -- we know it's deep thought 'cuz Affleck voices over this bit of the film -- Rudy decides to call himself Nick and put the wood to the mousy lady standing all alone in the Michigan snow.

Heck, guys, if you spent five years as studmuffin to the con in the next cell, would you pass up a chance for a piece of Charlize Theron? Cranky thinks not. So, "Nick" unwraps his Christmas present a couple of days early and before he knows it, he's neck deep in a harebrained scam to rip off an Indian casino on Christmas eve. That brings us to the third member of our unholy trio, Ashley's trucker/gunrunner brother Gabriel (Gary Sinise) and his posse from hell (Clarence Williams III, Danny Trejo, Donal Logue. All menacing in their own way. All filling the usual quota for minority actors in mostly underwritten stereotype tough guy roles). Turns out that the real Nick was a security guard for said casino and that Ashley's brother Gabriel (aka "Monster") figured the inside knowledge would be enough to facilitate a big score.

Which it would have, if it weren't really Rudy trying to figure out how to save his neck from the local locos who will pop him (and probably the girl, too) once all is said and done. It's all a set up for a beautifully paced man-in-over-his-head stock story. Writer Ehren Kruger (where have I heard that name before. . . .) hurls escape attempts, sexual trysts, hard core macho situations onto the screen as you rocket towards the robbery that "Nick" has to pull together.

Two problems with what otherwise would have been a superior popcorn flick: One is evident from the very first shot of the movie in which we discover that most of the film is told in flashback (and the closer you get to rejoining "real time" the less vicarious the thrill gets). Two is that Kruger's script fits his pattern -- I looked him up. Kruger who set up a great story in Arlington Road, which fell apart if you thought about the twists and turns at the end too much. He wrote the screenplay for Scream 3, which hits the wall when the "real" GhostFace explains it all to you at the end, like the bad guy in a Bond flick. In Reindeer Games, Kruger lets loose with more story twists than you can believe. Frankly, Cranky can believe a lot, but the capper was the one that you'll have to see for yourself. The crowd I sat with groaned when it happened. Cranky wasn't smart enough to figure it all out on first sight, but he didn't buy the revelation. Like the aforementioned Bond flicks, if you've got to have everything explained to you, the writer didn't do his job in the first two acts.

The net result isn't a disaster, but it's nothing worth waiting hours on line for, either. That puts it somewhere between wait for PPV and find a second run screening.

On average, a first run movie ticket will run you Eight Bucks. Were Cranky able to set his own price to Reindeer Games, he would have paid...


For most of its reel time, a Reindeer Games is a fast paced popcorn flick. But once you hit the surprise end and you'll be wanting to throw the unpopped kernels back at the screen.

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