Leave These 'Reindeer Games' in Santa's Sleigh

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Leave These 'Reindeer Games' in Santa's Sleigh

"Reindeer Games" has finally come to Korea, but is perhaps being shown during the wrong season. Not that it would have given viewers much to celebrate had it actually made it in time for last Christmas, but at least the title would have made more sense.

Like "Die Hard II" this movie was targeted for release during the holiday season, presumably to make the hero's duties seem all the more substantial because of the sacred tradition the makers are bound to protect. While the two movies use the same theme of trying to get home for Christmas as a motivation for the characters, the similarities stop there.

Director John Frankenheimer's "Reindeer Games" has none of the catchy one-liners that made Bruce Willis stand out among action heroes, which is a shame because the delivery of semi-sarcasm is precisely where Ben Affleck's talents lie, as attested by "Good Will Hunting."

As an action-thriller, this movie's disappointing plot makes a mockery of the element of suspense, and with its incessant backstabbing borders on being an over-extended soap opera. To its credit, the film clocks in at just over an hour and a half.

The opening scene shows two inmates about to be released in two days time. Rudolf - Rudy (Affleck) - is serving time for grand theft auto, while his best friend Nick (James Frain) is doing time for murdering his ex-girlfriend's stalker.

In prison, the two pass the time with idle talk of the world outside. Rudy wants only to make it home for Christmas dinner and eat leftovers; and Nick wants only to meet his mysterious pen pal Ashley, whom he has become involved with over the course of their long correspondence.

With only one day left to go, Nick is killed during a prison riot trying to save Rudy's life.

When Rudy is released the next day, rather than tell the beautiful Ashley (Charlize Theron) of Nick's fate, Rudy passes himself off to her as Nick, whom she knows only through letters. What he doesn't know is that in becoming her lover he is also impersonating a man who used to work at a casino and claims to know the whole layout, including where the security rooms and cameras are. He promises himself to tell Ashley the truth after the holidays, but before he gets the chance, Ashley's homicidal brother Gabriel (Gary Sinise) and his gang of truckers gone bad mistakenly kidnap Rudy for the valuable information about the casino that only Nick knows. If he discloses his real identity they'll kill him, and even if the robbery goes down smoothly they'll still kill him.

Trapped into taking part of a heist that is bound to go wrong, Rudy has no other option but to go along with the charade and pretend to be Nick.

Ben Affleck is a bit too clean-cut to pull off playing the role of a hardened ex-convict. Basically, the make-up artists resort to giving him fake tattoos to give him the air of a street-smart thief. Though he has a knack for playing righteously indignant characters with his comic expressions and matter-of-fact reasoning during tense scenes, the script doesn't really allow for him to use his full talents. The finished product is very dry, with fleeting moments of comic relief.

Gary Sinise is the other strong point of the movie and injects just the right amount of cynicism into a criminal who is on the verge of getting what he wants, but must restrain himself until the right moment.

Other fine performances by Charlize Theron and Clarence Williams are also in vain due to the overall implausibility of the story.

Though Frankenheimer has a resume of notable movies like "The Birdman of Alcatraz" (1962) and "Ronin," (1998) this movie misfires repeatedly with no sense of logical reasoning and a script that tries to provoke a gasp at every turn. Starting with a few bad scenes, the movie soon turns into a four-car pileup.

The film becomes tiring and trying to the viewer's patience. In the end, no amount of star power can really save this wreck.

by Joseph Kim

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