Reindeer Games (2000) from Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski) and Tuna
notes in white:
Reindeer Games is one of those noir films where everyone double-crosses everyone else, and you aren't supposed to guess who's really in control. The critics generally despised it, centering on four points: (1) the plot twists are surprising only because they come from so far out in left field (2) Ben Affleck and Charlize Theron lack credibility as hardened criminals (3) it is a very strident, loud, unpleasant movie (4) the violence seems unnecessarily copious and psychotic without being clever in any way, thus failing to justify its own existence.
Those points are generally valid, and I can't really argue that Reindeer Games is a good movie, but it's not the stinker than some people claimed. I enjoyed it in the category of a leisurely watch which is worth a quick look when you can't sleep, especially if you already paid for the cable channel. There were about a zillion switcheroos that I did guess, but I didn't guess the final surprise, so I guess it wasn't so bad as a light entertainment with some of the guilty pleasure one derives from a twisty noir. Perhaps the film is not really good enough to have merited a theatrical release, but it's about on a par with a top-notch hyphen movie (straight-to-vid or made-for-cable).
The one thing I found completely irritating in the script was the constant use of the ol' James Bond exposition cliché of "well, since you're going to die, I may as well tie you up and tell you the whole plot". That scriptwriting ploy is hard to accept when it happens even once per film, but this script seemed to use it seven or eight hundred times, to explain every aspect of the plot, like a voice-over. Affleck would walk up to a makeshift lemonade stand, hold a gun to the little kid's head, and say "OK, I don't have five cents for that lemonade, but this roscoe says I'm headin' to Citrus City. Oh, and by the way I'm going to pretend to that beautiful girl over there that I'm my late cellmate, because she's never seen him, so he could be anyone."
Quick - tell me what The Manchurian Candidate and Reindeer Games have in common. I know what you wiseacres are thinking - "um ... they are both movies with English titles?" Well, believe it or not, they both have the same director. John Frankenheimer directed The Manchurian Candidate when he was 32, Reindeer Games when he was 70. He died recently (2002), shortly after putting together a Director's Cut of Reindeer Games. You are undoubtedly thinking, "A director's cut of Reindeer Games? Wow. This is huge!"
Indeed. Not merely huge, but epochal. An industry milestone.
Actually, to drop the cheesy irony, I did like the movie much better the second time around, and some of the reasons were related to the additional footage in the director's cut:
One last thought. I wonder how the movie would have worked with George Clooney instead of Ben Affleck. The harshness of the film is compounded by the fact that Ben Affleck is inherently aloof. The film needed a more approachable, genial presence to draw in some audience involvement. I think if the lead character had been more sympathetic, the film might have been audience-friendly enough to work.
comments in yellow:
When the film was
originally screened before a test audience, they thought it was far too
violent, and had too much nudity. A few weak points in the story were
also pointed out. Rather than release the film in December as originally
planned, director John Frankenheimer agreed willingly to do significant
reshooting, and to cut much of the violence and sex. The remade film was
a box office failure, returning $23.4m gross against a $36m budget. In
retrospect, Frankenheimer, while agreeing that some of the new material
helped the story, believes that softening the film was a huge mistake. I
could have told him that. He set out to make a really edgy crime
thriller, and had a great suspense story line going in. The cuts totally
changed the nature of the film.
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