Reindeer Games

Over the course of nearly 40 years in film, John Frankenheimer has established himself as a solid, realism-oriented action/drama director capable of turning out the occasional masterpiece (The Manchurian Candidate, Seconds). Over the course of nearly three years in film, screenwriter-of-the-moment Ehren Kruger (Scream 3, Arlington Road) has established himself as a purveyor of ridiculously convoluted thrillers with wildly implausible trick endings. Kruger and Frankenheimer's differing sensibilities meet, with less-than-stellar results, in Reindeer Games, an action thriller with all the plot twists, realism, and fully developed characters of an episode of Scooby Doo. Ben Affleck stars as a crafty car thief who, upon his release from prison, assumes the identity of his cellmate in order to get closer to his unseen pen pal/girlfriend Charlize Theron. In the process, he gets mixed up with a thug (Gary Sinise) who wants his help pulling a casino heist. Reindeer Games gets off to a decent start, and Frankenheimer keeps it looking good, but early on it becomes apparent that Kruger's script doesn't require suspension of disbelief so much as it requires viewers to abandon knowledge of the material world altogether. His script for Arlington Road stayed in the realm of theoretical possibility until its final act, but Reindeer Games parts with plausibility about 20 minutes in and never looks back. Affleck does what he can with a thankless role that requires his character's MacGyver-like ingenuity at getting himself almost out of jams using simple doohickeys to come into play at every turn. Just about everyone else turns in embarrassing, hammy performances, especially Sinise as the bug-eyed heavy—although it may be asking a bit much for a restrained performance from an actor playing a character named "Monster."

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