Rudy is a small-time crook who assumes his dead cellmate's identity on release from prison in order to cop off with his gorgeous penpal. However, he soon learns that she and her terrifying brother expect him to use his (fictitious) experience working in a casino to help them carry out a heist...
Until 20 minutes before it was due to be released, this twisted thriller went by the more memorable title of Reindeer Games (as in, "They never let poor Rudolph join in all their reindeer games..."). It's another exercise (as is Gremlins, Die Hard, or even Frankenheimer's Dead-Bang) in ironic juxtaposition as the snow, tinsel and tunes of Christmas dress up a bloody, cynical picture about violence on Earth and ill-will to all men. Though no longer running the risk of being taken for a kiddie cartoon, it's a shame that the film has wound up stuck with such a generic title.
With scripts for Arlington Road and Scream 3, Ehren Kruger has become the king of the cruel surprise. He divides the world into patsies and nasties, and his tendency to tag someone in one category, but then reveal that they're the other in disguise, means the worst you can imagine of everyone is liable to turn out to be a mere shadow of the rottenness they'll be called upon to display.
The most sympathetic character here is a professional car thief who sleeps with his dead best friend's girl, and only Affleck's bewildered charm makes put-upon ex-con Rudy a credible central figure and narrator. Affleck, making his bones as a solo action hero, is here trying for a Robert Mitchum-cum-George Clooney hard-but-sensitive feel, though he carries himself less like a villain out to go straight than a nice kid whose jail tattoos are wash-off transfers.
The opening scene finds five Santas lying bloodily in the snow, then quickly flashes back to the days that have led to this Christmas massacre as Rudy falls in with the too-scrumptious-to-be-true Ashley (Theron) and her amazingly fiendish brother Gabriel (Sinise), a pumped-up Manson lookalike who is also known as "Monster", relating to the truck that he smuggles illegal guns in. Rudy quickly realises Monster's mates, including a slow-burning Clarence Williams III and typecast Hispanic baddie Danny Trejo, may be ruthlessly kill-happy, but are also fundamentally liable to bungle any job. Nevertheless, some far-fetched bits of plot keep him with the gang until everything blows up and some expected nasty surprises are mixed in with one or two real turn-ups-for-the-books. All in all, an opportunity missed.
Fantastically implausible and utterly silly, this overcomes the uninspired performances to deliver a brainless bit of undemanding entertainment - if you like that sort of thing.