Fuckin’ Reindeer Games man. This is one I find myself revisiting far more than likely any other human being on the planet, including those who were involved in the making of the movie. I would never come out and say that this is an actual good movie. But there’s something about its balancing act between being legitimately good and flat out terrible that I find fascinating, and so every few Christmases I find myself indulging in the insanity that is Ben Affleck in Reindeer Games.
This one came out right about the time where Affleck was making the transition from respectable actor to “what the fuck is this guy doing?!” It was also released in February, which if you’re like me and know science, you are very aware that is several weeks past Christmas. It was the ultimate example of a studio going “what on earth do we do with this thing? Let’s huck it out when nothing good is coming out and hope we can trick people into seats.” It did not work.
Reindeer Games is about this guy Rudy (Affleck) who is serving a prison sentence for grand theft auto. His cellmate, Nick, is in there for robbing casinos and both of them are just a few days away from being released. Nick has been writing letters back and forth with Ashley (a ridiculously attractive Charlize Theron) so he is pumped to be released and meet her. Unfortunately Nick is shived in a very strange prison riot that commences when Isaac Hayes starts screaming about there being monsters in the gelatin.
Rudy is released and before his bus takes off, he spots a lonely Ashley outside, looking around desperately for Nick. Because Rudy doesn’t think shit through apparently, he tells Ashley that he is indeed Nick, figuring the ruse will work since he read all the same letters that Nick did and knows all of the same stuff about her. They begin a weekend romp of buying Christmas trees and having surprisingly graphic movie sex, complete with some quality Affleck ass shots. Rudy is so into it that he flushes his ID and decides he will now be Nick full time.
No sooner does he do that than Ashley’s psychotic brother, Gabriel (Gary Sinise) arrives with his posse of people who include Danny Trejo and some dude who keep calling Santa’s elves his dwarves and that you apparently say thank you to them. You see they know that Nick has successfully robbed the casino they’re casing, so they want him to help them do the same thing. But Rudy doesn’t know about that shit you guys! He’s a car thief not a casino robbing man! It’s your classic sitcom premise but with more shooting and boobs.
The middle section of this movie is nothing but “Hey I can’t rob a casino because I’m not Nick!” “Well then we’ll kill you!” “Ok I am Nick!” “Awesome, how do we rob this place?” “I don’t know I’m not Nick!” “Well then it’s murder time I guess!” “Oh shit that’s right I forgot. Ok then yeah I am totally Nick.” It’s a constant loop of variations on that dialogue and Affleck making a series of failed escape attempts. Oh and lots of Affleck yelling at Theron for betraying him or not telling him that maybe the guy from CSI New York will show up and make him rob Dennis Farina, which admittedly is a pretty big detail to omit.
They do manage to have some pretty effective sequences however. The part where they take Affleck to the actual casino and he has to bluff his way through the scenario is pretty suspenseful since you’re never quite sure if he’s doing to actually pull off the ruse. It’s a bit unfortunate the whole thing ends with an unexciting foot chase through the snow, but hey that casino shit is pretty solid so good on them for that.
It’s right around the time where Gary Sinise is throwing darts at a half-dead Affleck that the movie decides “fuck it” and goes completely balls to the wall insane. This is where shit gets real good. Here we’re introduced to a squirt gun full of alcohol that you just know is going to come back later in a big, big way. We are also introduced to our first plot twist which I am going to completely ruin for you so you have been warned. It turns out that Ashley isn’t Gabriel’s sister at all, but his girlfriend! This is discovered when Affleck spies her showing her boobs to Gabriel in a hotel swimming pool, which is not something siblings would normally do. In my opinion, all plot twists should be conveyed through the use of boobs.
The final sequence where Affleck leads the group (all dressed up as Santa for the record) into the casino is decent stuff with some ok action beats and a completely ridiculous death and one liner with that damn squirt gun. You know what, I’ll just tell you what happens here too. Affleck is wrestling with this guy for a real gun and ends up with the fake one full of booze. Before the other guy shoots him, he goes to light a cigarette so Affleck shoots the booze at his lighter, causing the guy to immediately be engulfed in flames. It’s pretty spectacular. He also calls back to that dwarf thanking line from earlier but it’s not badass, it’s just strange.
However the real reason I respect this movie and its sheer audacity is the scene after they have left the casino. Sinise and Affleck are the only ones who are still alive and Sinise is moments away from killing him when suddenly Ashley makes the classic mistake of revealing information that she had no way of knowing unless something was up, in this case it’s the details of Nick’s death that Rudy never told her. When called out on it, she promptly shoots Sinise (I know it’s confusing that I keep switching back and forth between the actor’s name and the character but I’m on a roll with writing this and there is no time for consistency!) and it’s then that we are treated to the most fucking illogical, insane plot twist in the history of cinema.
It turns out that not only is Nick still alive, but he masterminded this entire fucking operation! He faked his own death during the prison riot (which he spearheaded), knowing full well that Rudy would lie and take his place when he met Ashley, that Rudy would eventually agree to assist Gabriel with robbing that casino, and that everyone would end up in this exact spot at this exact time so that he could make his big reveal. That’s….completely fucking ridiculous but also pretty awesome. This Nick guy is clearly the smartest man on the entire planet. Rudy even points out that the plan was insane and should never have worked but Nick ain’t having it. He knew this is precisely how it would all go down. It might be one of the most unnecessary twists in cinema history and immediately makes the movie silly beyond belief. But like I said earlier, that’s the very reason that I respect it.
So Nick and Ashley put Rudy behind the wheel of a car, with the plan being to roll it off the side of a cliff, leading authorities to believe the only surviving member of the robbery was in a fatal accident and that both he and the money were completely burned up. However despite Nick being smart enough to hatch and successfully execute the most convoluted plan in human history, he forgets the very reason why his cellmate was in jail in the first place – for stealing fucking cars! It’s like handing an expert marksman a rifle and saying “Ha! Good fucking luck!” Naturally Rudy immediately hotwires the car, murders everyone and escapes.
In the final sequence, he is walking down a suburban street with a sack full of money over his shoulder. He stops at the mailbox for every house and puts a big stack of cash in there. It’s certainly a nice gesture, but are we really sure these houses belong to the people who are most deserving of this money? I get that it’s not very cinematic to watch Rudy research charities, but I don’t know about this. Sure it will make Christmas great for several no doubt deserving families but I can’t help but think there will be at least that one Dad who finds the money first and decides “Oh shit! Now I can finally afford to leave my family!” If you ignore that potential dark aftermath though then it’s an incredibly gesture on Rudy’s part.
The final shot of the movie shows Rudy finally back at home with his family enjoying a nice Christmas dinner. I really really hope he’s in the midst of telling the “holy shit! Guess what happened to me!?” story because my god it’s quite a tale. It worked out pretty well for him I would say. Sure he got a bunch of darts thrown into his chest, got punched a lot and almost froze to death. But he got to have sex with Charlize Theron a bunch and got some free pecan pie. Not bad overall!
And that ladies and gentlemen, is Ben Affleck in Reindeer Games. It has a nonsensical plot, dopey dialogue and mediocre acting. And yet, I can’t help but enjoy it. I think the reason I respect Reindeer Games is because it doesn’t give a shit what you think about it. It’s not afraid to be trashy, silly and dumb, and believe me it is certainly all of those things. I can’t recommend it if you’re actually looking for a quality film, but if you are looking for a very crazy way to spend a couple of hours and are tired of your usual Christmas movie rotations, then perhaps introduce Reindeer Games into the mix.