Christian’s Christmas: Reindeer Games (2000)

By Christian DiMartino

So in all my years, I’d never actually seen Reindeer Games. Perhaps because at a young age, well, not only should I not have been watching it, but also, I was steered away from it. It was a movie we owned on VHS, and yet, my family claimed it wasn’t good. Must’ve been a blind Blockbuster buy or something. But I saw it was on HBO Max, and since I’m trying to broaden my Christmas movie horizons, I thought what the hell.

Is Reindeer Games good? Um, no. Does Reindeer Games, at the end of the day, make any logical sense? Um, no. It’s a completely ridiculous, ludicrous movie that plays it all very serious. That being said… I didn’t NOT have fun. It is fun. It’s just complete garbage. But, fun garbage. It’s a group of people that I like quite a bit, definitely not in top form by any means, doing what they can with material that they have to know is beneath them.

Apparently this film was set for a December 1999 release, but after a poor test screening it was heavily edited and pushed back to February 2000. Which is never a good indicator for a movie. Plus, it’s all the more bizarre that it didn’t get a Christmastime release because, well, despite how grimy this all is, there’s a lot of Christmas talk here. It’s not like Lethal Weapon where it’s obviously Christmastime but it doesn’t play too much of a role. They really lean into the Christmas here, even if this movie is certainly not in the holiday spirit. Well, that is until a conclusion that is utterly bizarre.

What’s baffling is that this is directed by John Frankenheimer, who didn’t have a bulletproof track record but… the guy made The Manchurian Candidate, Seconds, and Birdman of Alcatraz. Something went wrong here, and that’s the screenplay. Really. Everyone is doing what they can with this very silly material. But also, hmm. So Charlize Theron, our queen, wasn’t really getting roles worthy of her at this point in time. It wasn’t until she won her Oscar that things really took off. Ben Affleck, on the other hand, won his Oscar, and it seems he just made whatever movie was given to him. I s**t you not, look at the guy’s career from 1998-2006. Pearl Harbor, Gigli, Daredevil, this movie, Surviving Christmas. Tough times. So it’s not a surprise he was here. But Frankenheimer? Why? This was his last movie too.

So I admit that I had this movie spoiled for me before I saw it. Even then though, buying into what you’re watching takes a true suspension of disbelief. The movie opens with a bunch of dead Santa’s, so we know this is where the movie is heading, because it takes back to six days prior. Affleck plays Rudy, an inmate in prison who, along with his friend Nick (James Frain), are this close to getting out. Nick has a relationship with a woman named Ashley (Theron), who he’s never met but he has pictures and they’re pen pals. Seeing as these two share a cell together, Rudy listens to him yack on about her pretty frequently… and obviously she’s gorgeous so he listens. At about the 15 minute mark there’s a fight in the cafeteria because there’s cockroaches in jello or something, and Nick is knifed and killed. So when Rudy is released and he sees Ashley waiting for Nick, he pretends he’s Nick so then he can get in her pants.

Which he does. They actually seem to have a pretty lovely time. She seems really sweet, they shag a lot. Good times. BUT, that comes to a crashing halt when they return to their hotel room and are viciously attacked by a group of men. Leading the group is Gabriel (Gary Sinise, having the wildly over the top time of his life), Ashley’s brother. Turns out, the real Nick used to work at a casino, and Gabriel and company were going to force him into helping them rob it. Rudy then tries to plea his case that he’s not Nick… and then he’ll retract. And he keeps doing it. And the whole time I kept wondering just why they really needed this guy. It’s a big hole here, because Rudy is constantly trying to escape from them, and he doesn’t really have any knowledge about the casino. They could easily just kill him and do it themselves. Which, why won’t they just kill him? They don’t seem like people who can be reasoned with, but they sure are, I guess?

There’s lies, deception, bloodshed, and bulls**t. It’s all quite stupid, and quite silly. You get the sense that there really wasn’t much there there, and the movie is spinning it’s wheels. It had to have dawned on these maniacs that Rudy wasn’t really Nick, so why don’t they just off him and move on? I couldn’t get over it. What I will say is this: it’s lurid trash, but I was entertained by all of it. I too found myself caught up in the sleezy nature of its story and the fact that they set it at Christmas. I actually enjoyed the performances in this too, even if the movie is playing it straight. You know who isn’t? Gary Sinise. You can tell that he really enjoyed his life while he was making this movie.

But, again, none of this makes any actual sense. Seeing as I had the movie spoiled for me, I’m going to spoil it for you. It’s 22 years old, and nobody gives a damn. So it turns out that not only is Ashley not related to Gabriel, but they’re also lovers. As if one rabbit being pulled out of the hat wasn’t enough, here’s another: Nick never actually died, and him and Ashley have been in on it the whole time. Excuse me, what? Why did Rudy have to be involved in any of this? Among other questions. It’s just absurd.

The movie ends with Rudy giving money away to his fellow man and it even ends on a sentimental note. I’m sorry, what the hell is going on here? Reindeer Games is a bad movie. In fact, Charlize once said in an interview that it’s the worst she’s done. Whether or not that stayed true I don’t know. What I do know is that it’s crap, but it’s crap that I had a fun enough time watching. It holds you, but whether or not the journey is actually worth it is another question. In the winter, I love to have a mug of bourbon and apple cider. That would make the experience all the more pleasurable.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: