Tis the season to spread joy, cheer and happiness to those around you and friends and family. It’s Christmas time! For most people reading this though, I will not be doing any of that. As I’m talking about the movie Reindeer Games.
Now, in Europe the movie didn’t have that title, it was released under the name Deception (real original). Apparently, that’s because reindeer are not common there? I mean, sure I guess, but you’ve all heard of Santa and his seven reindeer, right? I’ll have to ask our Outposters from Europe and the UK to check my ignorance on that.
It’s a guilty pleasure for me. The way I see it, a movie is a guilty pleasure when most people dislike it and/or it flops at the box office. This movie covers both of those bases. The movie got generally negative critical reception and only grossed $32 million against a budget of $42 million.
Reindeer Games takes place in my great state of Michigan, however, was filmed in Vancouver and Prince George, British Columbia, Canada. You can be forgiven if not being able to tell the two apart because the Upper Peninsula of Michigan (otherwise known as “the UP”) is filled with forests and wilderness. Much like a lot of Canada apparently is.
We also have a lot of casinos here in Michigan. We’re ranked at 10 on the list of states with the most casinos, totaling at 26. 23 of them are Indian casinos, with the other three being commercial casinos in Detroit. However, none of them from what I can tell are called Tomahawk Casino, like in the movie.
I don’t know what building they used for the casino, could very well be a casino, but it’s really small. From the outside and inside, the place doesn’t look at all big enough to be a casino. From the manager’s office overlooking the place, you can see everything there is. I’ve only been in a couple of casinos here and they seemed much bigger.
If you haven’t seen Reindeer Games, you’re probably asking why I’m talking about casinos. Well, that’s the plot of the movie, a casino heist, which is a big reason I like this movie. Ben Affleck plays a car thief in prison named Rudy and his cellmate is his new best friend named Nick (James Frain)… Get it? Rudolph and Saint Nick?
Their names are an allusion to the famous Christmas song Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. Nick sets up the plan and Rudy leads it. Nick keeps telling Rudy about this girl he has on the outside, that he’s going to get with when they get released in a few days. That’s until he gets shanked for protecting Rudy in a brawl that breaks out in the cafeteria. Just a couple of days until his retirement too, oops! I mean prison release.
Rudy feels bad seeing her all alone when released and pretends to be Nick. Her name’s Ashley (Charlize Theron) and the two get a motel room and have some holiday greetings and not so gay happy meetings.
Everything is going great until her brother, Gabriel (Gary Sinise) shows up to beat up who he thinks is Nick and forces him to help plan the heist of the Tomahawk Casino. Basically, Gabriel and his friends bully Rudy. That’s the short version of the plot and how it’s tied to the song. It’s also where the title of the movie comes from, Reindeer Games.
The term “reindeer games” is a colloquial expression, usually used for bullying activities of a clique or group, much like the herd of reindeer that made fun of Rudolph and ostracized him. I’ve never heard this term being used, but it’s pretty interesting, gives some depth to the movie.
One of Gabriel’s henchmen is played by Donal Logue. Originally the part was going to be played by Vin Diesel, which sounds interesting. There are conflicting stories of why they changed to having Logue instead.
One story is that Diesel had disagreements with the character with John Frankenheimer, the movie’s director. Another that apparently came from Danny Trejo (one of the henchmen) said that Diesel was replaced in the role because he was offered a starring role in The Fast and the Furious and was discharged from this movie.
I don’t know which is true, if either is or maybe both are. I could see there being differences of opinion and struggle and the opportunity for Diesel to leave for another movie came up and took it.
Although the movie was filmed in Canada, it really wanted to let us know it was supposed to take place in Michigan. It feels like every sign in the background says “Michigan” on it in one form or another. It’s actually kind of distracting, maybe more so for me, because I live here.
The movie also makes mention a few times about it being Michigan, so it comes off as being a bit much. Rudy walks past a sign that says something like “Sidnaw 15 Miles,” the Township he mentions being from. Just have that and a couple of lines, none of the other stuff is needed.
There’s a scene on a frozen lake that kind of annoys me and should for anyone that has been on one. Rudy tries taking Ashley and escaping, but Gabriel and his friends catch up. Some guy comes out of his ice fishing shanty to see what the problem is. Once he notices he should leave well enough alone, runs back in. Gabriel shoots him through the wall and then opens the door, shoots the ice and the man falls in. You can tell the ice used is thin, thin enough that no one in their right mind would have a shanty out on the lake.
I’m not a big ice fisherman or anything, most times I’ve done it was as a kid. The ice was always a good foot thick, give or take. Otherwise, we sat our asses in the cold instead. So seeing that was annoying, but a non-issue really. Just something I thought about when watching the movie again.
Reindeer Games is a good movie and gets too much hate. Even Theron said it was her least favorite of all the movies she’s done.
“That was a bad, bad, bad movie. But I got to work with John Frankenheimer. I wasn’t lying to myself – that’s why I did it.”
I don’t think it’s at all bad. It’s not a great movie, but it’s a fun action movie about a group of Santas robbing a casino on Christmas Eve. The movie was released in 2000, but if this would have come out in the late-80s/early-90s, I think it would have been better received.
To be fair, the movie got chopped up in editing, it wasn’t the dark, gritty and sexier version that Frankenheimer created. It’s the test screening that did it in for the most part and the reason it came out in early 2000 and not Christmas 1999. That and the MPAA’s objections over the infamous dart torture scene. For Christ’s sake, where were they for Cuties?
It was also Frankenheimer’s last movie, which is sad because he directed some great movies. If you do watch it, I recommend the Director’s Cut. In fact, I believe that’s the only version I’ve seen, other than the one time seeing it in theaters. Maybe that’s why I liked watching it so much.