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Movie Review

Rudy Duncan has done his time—six years in prison for grand theft auto. He and buddy Nick (serving two years for manslaughter) are both just days away from parole. While Rudy longs to get home in time to enjoy a traditional Christmas with his family, Nick plans to meet up with Ashley, a beautiful young woman he’s been corresponding with, but hasn’t met. A cafeteria riot lands Nick on the wrong end of a lifer’s knife, inspiring Rudy to assume Nick’s identity and rendezvous with the sexually eager girl he’s heard so much about. Then things get complicated. Having read Nick’s letters to Ashley, a gun-running trucker named Gabriel and his band of hoods ambush the naive Rudy (thinking he’s Nick) for information that will help them pull a casino heist on Christmas eve. Rudy must continue the deception, realizing that the moment he’s no longer of use to the crooks, he’s a dead man. But all is not as it seems and people aren’t necessarily who they pretend to be in this twisting R-rated action movie from screenwriter-of-the-moment Ehren Kruger.

Positive Elements: Not much. And what little does exist can’t begin to compensate for the film’s significant problems. When Ashley falls through thin ice, Rudy risks his own safety to rescue her. Following a fiery climax, Rudy unselfishly drops wads of untraceable, ill-gotten cash in the mailboxes of decent people as he heads home for the family holiday he longed for at the start (implying that, had he simply stuck with the "family plan" instead of chasing cheap sex, he could have saved himself a lot of pain and several close brushes with death).

Spiritual Content: The scurrilous Gabriel suggests that this big casino heist is the Lord’s gift to him, a way of putting the trucker life behind him and allowing him to move on in comfort. Rudy points a gun at a bad guy who, when the weapon turns out to be a water pistol, utters "God is good." The Lord’s name is abused frequently. At one point, one of Gabriel’s henchmen scolds Rudy for using Christ’s name ("Hey man, watch your mouth, it’s Christmas"), but has no qualms about committing armed robbery on the Lord’s birthday. In fact, it’s disturbing to see Christmas themes, images, songs, etc. sprinkled in amongst the movie’s dark, immoral content. For example, Ashley tells Rudy that when she returns to their motel room, she wants him wearing nothing but a candy cane, which inspires him to start singing "The Little Drummer Boy."

Sexual Content: Two scenes involve explicit nudity. Shortly after Rudy and Ashley meet, they’re tearing each other’s clothes off and clumsily engaging in sex. Later, she teasingly removes a bikini top for the leering camera—totally gratuitous. By comparison, a glimpse of Ashley in extremely short shorts seems hardly worth mentioning, but viewers see that too. The script also features crude sexual dialogue. Behind bars, Nick and Rudy objectify women, calling them "merchandise" and boasting about casual encounters. Referring to his prison experience, Rudy makes a snide comment about sodomy. A greedy woman prostitutes herself with a complete lack of self-respect or moral conscience.

Violent Content: Pretty constant and often intense. The film opens with shots of murdered Santas lying bloodied, charred or both. Characters are punched, stabbed, beaten with baseball bats, set on fire, run over with automobiles and sent sailing over snow-covered cliffs. Gabriel throws darts around Rudy’s head before burying one in his chest and then embedding another in his shoulder. People are blown away with pistols, shotguns and automatic weapons, occasionally at close range. Inmates riot in the cafeteria when they notice roaches in the Jell-O. To create a diversion in the casino, Rudy wrestles an innocent old man to the floor. A manslaughter conviction seems to pay off for Nick whose gushy romantic correspondence with Ashley leads Rudy to comment, "If you hadn’t cracked that guy’s head open, you wouldn’t have found true love."

Crude or Profane Language: Awful. Nearly 50 f-words and 20 s-words are exacerbated by two dozen blasphemies (more than half of them specifically abusing the name of Jesus Christ), crass sexual slang and other profanities.

Drug and Alcohol Content: Alcohol is served in the casino. The same hood who chastises Rudy for taking the Lord’s name in vain chugs from a bottle of rum. Rudy borrows the bottle and fills his water pistol with alcohol so that he can shoot it into his mouth now and then (which is itself a disturbing image). Nick fantasizes about sharing wine with Ashley.

Other Negative Elements: What’s a casino without gambling? Slots and blackjack are the on-camera games of choice. The main characters are driven by lust, greed and selfish ambition. Without flinching, they’re willing to lie, steal and kill to get what they want. In fact, the film’s working title was, appropriately, Deception.

Summary: Reindeer Games exists for its twists and turns, a bevy of unexpected revelations that unfold throughout, but do so with a vengeance in the movie’s final ten minutes. At the risk of having my press privileges revoked, I dare not say who does what to whom. Not that it matters. The more I reflect on the plot, the less individual moments and relationships make sense. Kruger gets tangled in his own expanding web of intrigue and betrayal. The characters motivations end up serving the demands of the contrived script rather than rational human behavior. Still, the action is what will attract audiences hungry for an adrenaline rush. And on that level, the film delivers, using extremely violent means to keep viewers glued to the screen. Sex and language compound the problem. I’ve also lost a lot of respect for Charlize Theron (Mighty Joe Young) and Gary Sinise (Of Mice and Men, Apollo 13, Forrest Gump) after seeing this unflattering résumé item. Both are gifted performers who’ve cheapened themselves by appearing in such a sleazy, meanspirited waste of time. Don’t let teens join in any Reindeer Games.

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Ben Affleck as Rudy Duncan; Charlize Theron as Ashley; Gary Sinise as Gabriel; Dennis Farina as James Banks; James Frain as Nick


John Frankenheimer ( )


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Bob Smithouser

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