Reindeer Games (2000)

For the record, we didn't go out of our way to watch this because of the Affleck connection: this has been sitting in our NetFlix queue for months, slowly climbing its way to the top. And now that it's there, we finally got to watch the damn thing.

It. Is. Bad.

It's almost impressively bad. With the right crowd - and the right drinks - this thing could easily cross the fabled line into "so bad it's good." But it doesn't earn that honor, not on its own merits; it would take a huge amount of work from the audience to meet it halfway. And, frankly, we just didn't have the energy.

The plot is borderline comical. For a solid twenty minutes, I almost gave this the benefit of the doubt and assumed it was intended as a comedy, albeit one lacking in humor. But, as the movie dragged on, it became crystal clear I was being far too kind: this was supposed to be suspenseful. We were supposed to care about the characters.

Let me see if I can summarize the plot. Before I do that, I want to give credit where it's due: this was written by Ehren Kruger, who also wrote Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen and Dark of the Moon. That should provide some context for the quality of writing on display.

First, a montage of dead guys in Santa suits give us a sense of where things are headed. Then, cut to a few days before Christmas. The main character, who's name is (sigh) Rudy, is about to get out of prison, along with his friend, Nick (sigh). Rudy's planning on going home to spend the holiday with his family, while Nick's planning on hooking up with a woman he's been writing to but has never met.

Then Nick gets stabbed saving Rudy's life, so Rudy naturally adopts his identity to meet the girl. His motivation for doing this is murky at best. Sex is the most believable explanation, but Affleck tries to imply something deeper, possibly to make the character come off as redeemable.

Reread that sentence. Affleck TRIES to imply something deeper. Keep in mind this is Affleck circa 2000, right between Armageddon and Daredevil. Remember when I said I kept thinking this was a comedy? A big part of this misconception was due to Affleck's acting chops. There were scenes that seemed like they had to be jokes. No one would expect something like that to be taken seriously. Right? RIGHT?

At any rate, things start out well for the newly released con. He shacks up with his dead friend's girlfriend (who thinks he's actually said friend). But then her brother enters the picture, along with his gang of gun runners. See, his friend used to work for a casino they want to rob. They grab Affleck and demand info on the layout and security.

Normally, I'd say this is where the movie starts to become incomprehensible, but... who am I kidding? That was right from the start.

The next forty-five minutes are pretty standard crime drama fare. The hero trying to get away or outmaneuver the bad guys, the villain executing an innocent bystander in order to demonstrate how evil he is, and the inevitable plot twists.

Dear God, the plot twists.

Okay, first a warning. If you hate spoilers and are considering seeing this movie, then it's imperative YOU KEEP READING THIS REVIEW. Seriously, if that's what it takes to ensure you don't waste two hours of your life, you have to stay with me here.

The rest of you are free to go.

First, it's revealed the girl knew her brother was going to grab Nick/Rudy. She's still loves him, of course: she's just terrified of her brother. Wait? Did I say she loves Rudy? Nah - that was all an unnecessarily over-elaborate act to get his cooperation. In reality, she's working with the bad guy, who's actually her lover.

I know: you're shocked at the mind-blowing originality of this twist. But wait: all that's actually part of an even more overly elaborate ploy orchestrated by (sigh) the real Nick, who's actually not dead but faked it all in order to trick the gun runners into robbing the casino with his girlfriend.

Because that makes sense.

This is a bad movie: I said that at the outset. The worst thing is, there's a lot of wasted talent. Not counting Affleck, the movie's leads are pretty solid: Charlize Theron, Gary Sinise, Danny Trejo... they made good actors say these lines. It's sad, really.

The Christmas elements are laid on pretty thick. This was clearly supposed to play like a holiday noir, juxtaposing holiday sounds and imagery with violence and suspense. It's a good idea that's been done many times far more successfully: this is mostly just embarrassing.

I'd be remiss talking about Reindeer Games without mentioning the dart scene. There's a sequence where Gary Sinise hurls darts at Affleck, initially missing him, but then sticking four into him. If they wanted this to come off as suspenseful, they really should have given Affleck some acting lessons: I almost fell over laughing.