Reindeer Games (2000) from Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski) and Tuna

Scoop's 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.

Maybe so.

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.

  • 1939 is often remembered as the year when it all came together for the movie industry, a time when movies like Citizen Kane, Gone With the Wind, and The Wizard of Oz were all greenlighted and released within a few months of each other. 
  • 2001 should be remembered as a similarly important time for the DVD side of the business, since it reached maturity at last with a director's cut of Reindeer Games. Now we know why DVD was invented to begin with.

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:

  • Gary Sinese's psychopathic character came up with some truly vivid violence which was grotesque, and unnecessarily cruel, but nonetheless represented worthwhile development of his character.
  • There was more Charlize Theron nudity in the expanded sex scene.
  • The director's cut includes a lot of humor which was cut from the theatrical release. A big chunk of Dennis Farina's character was chopped from the theatrical version. I'm guessing that they cut this material because it was very silly, and didn't really fit in with the tone of the movie. Farina played a casino boss whose remote little casino was going broke because of his bad ideas. The director's cut fleshed out those ideas. I can see why the scenes had been cut. This material did provide an unnecessary and irrelevant distraction from the main thrust of the movie, and it dragged on too long to be effective simply as comic relief. On the other hand, I enjoyed that comic relief more than the serious material it was providing relief from, so I approve its restoration.

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.



  • Widescreen anamorphic, 2.35:1

  • Full-length director's  commentary

  • the extras include the "theatrical scenes" which were omitted from the director's cut. 

  • additional "behind the scenes" featurette


Charlize Theron's breasts are seen in two scenes. First, in her hot sex scene with Ben Affleck, then in her topless swim with Gary Sinese. 

Theron's buttocks are seen very fleetingly in the sex scene. 

Ben Affleck's buns are seen for several seconds in the sex scene.

Tuna's 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.

The theatrical version is rated 5.5 of 10 at IMDB. This version would probably weigh in several decimals higher. I will give it a C+ for several reasons. The story line is totally logical, but with many surprise twists, the acting is great, the action is really edgy, and the film sets and maintains a mood throughout.

The Critics Vote

  • General consensus: less than two stars. Ebert 1.5/4, Berardinelli 2/4, Apollo 43/100.

The People Vote ...

  • With their votes ... IMDB summary: IMDb voters score it 5.4, Apollo users a solid 79/100. Note the disparity between Apollo users and the Apollo reviewer. Audiences weren't enthusiastic, but liked it better than the critics.
  • With their dollars ... it wasn't a hit. It took in $23 million, a radical underperformer considering its $36 million budget, and 2200 screen opening. 
IMDb guideline: 7.5 usually indicates a level of excellence, about like three and a half stars from the critics. 6.0 usually indicates lukewarm watchability, about like two and a half stars from the critics. The fives are generally not worthwhile unless they are really your kind of material, about like two stars from the critics. Films under five are generally awful even if you like that kind of film, equivalent to about one and a half stars from the critics or less, depending on just how far below five the rating is.

My own guideline: A means the movie is so good it will appeal to you even if you hate the genre. B means the movie is not good enough to win you over if you hate the genre, but is good enough to do so if you have an open mind about this type of film. C means it will only appeal to genre addicts, and has no crossover appeal. D means you'll hate it even if you like the genre. E means that you'll hate it even if you love the genre. F means that the film is not only unappealing across-the-board, but technically inept as well.

Based on this description, this film is a C (Scoop) to C+ (Tuna). It is a watchable noir film, better than the critics judged it, but too ugly and mean-spirited to attract a wide audience.

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