By Michael Dequina | July 9, 2000

Affleck made a different attempt to broaden his horizons in his other 2000 release, the action thriller Reindeer Games. He’s a game enough sport as ex-convict Rudy Duncan, who assumes the identity of his dead former cell mate to hook up with his girlfriend (Charlize Theron), only to be ensnared in a casino heist plot by her brother (Gary Sinise). But instead of building from the traditional Affleck screen persona to venture into new territory, the theatrical version of Reindeer Games did Affleck no favors as an actor by adjusting that territory to fit into the mold of that persona. Hence Rudy was more of a smug and jokey type than a believably hardened action hero.
Considering the film was hardly a box office bonanza or a critical favorite, it’s a bit surprising that Dimension has now released director John Frankenheimer’s original cut on VHS and DVD. “It’s much sexier and much edgier,” declares Frankenheimer in a quote in big type on the front cover, and to a certain degree, it is. Affleck and Theron’s sex scene in the early-going is slightly more explicit (though not as explicit as its original unreleased NC-17-ready form, Frankenheimer notes in the commentary track); and the violence is a lot more brutal. More subtle touches, however, are what make this version better than the one that went to theatres. Rudy is less of a wisecracker; Theron’s Ashley has much more backbone; and downright stupid touches found in the other versions, such as a montage of photos featuring Dennis Farina’s casino owner posing with various celebrities, are completely gone. That said, while a better film, Frankenheimer’s Reindeer Games still isn’t a good film, for only so much can be done with Ehren Kruger’s (he who ruined the Scream trilogy) weak script, which caps off its bewildering, out-of-control succession of twists with a ridiculously saccharine ending that does not fit in with everything that precedes it.
Frankenheimer’s commentary is useful in pointing out all the subtle alterations (or should I say “restorations”), and he’s refreshingly frank about what went wrong in the release cut and how unhappy he was with himself for going through with the changes. Another helpful supplement is the section of the alternate scene versions used in the theatrical cut. The other extras are less so: the film’s theatrical trailer (slightly altered to include review blurbs), and a behind-the-scenes featurette that appears to be culled from the electronic press kit.
Unlike a number of his under-30 contemporaries, Affleck has shown–if often only in glimpses and glimmers–chops behind the charm, and one can only hope that in the future he takes fewer roles that play off the latter (yes, that includes Pearl Harbor) and more that give a workout to the former.
Specifications: 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen; English 5.1 Surround; English subtitles; English closed captioning.

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