Seventy-year-old John Frankenheimer offers a different kind of inspiration. At an age when most people are retired and filmmakers like him have settled into a round of tributes and honours, Frankenheimer, who began directing television 45 years ago and whose best-known film is The Manchurian Candidate, has begun to reassert himself as the grand old man of the action movie.
Following the car-chase extravaganza Ronin, Frankenheimer offers Reindeer Games, starring Ben Affleck as a car thief freshly released from prison who finds himself tangled up with some bad guys (Gary Sinise, mostly) who think he's someone else - someone with inside information about an Indian casino in northern Michigan and who can help them take it off for a big score.
Affleck's starring role is a throwback to the poor film-noir hero who finds himself seduced for devious reasons by a femme fatale, and before he knows what's hit him guys with blackjacks are renovating his kidneys. However, the ride itself is fairly exhilarating, with some terrific set-pieces and the added bonus of Dennis Farina's brief appearance as Jack Bangs, the casino manager imported from Vegas and the only man in the Michigan winter with a tan.
The screenplay by Ehren Kruger (Arlington Road) does have some logic problems, especially when it roars into its one-plot-twist-too-many finale. Make that three plot twists too many. It also offers one of the most devastating put-downs in the history of heterosexual relations. When Affleck believes that Charlize Theron has betrayed him, he tells her, "I had better sex in prison." Ouch.
REINDEER GAMES, directed by John Frankenheimer, written by Ehren Kruger, produced by Marty Katz, Chris Moore and Bob Weinstein, with Ben Affleck, Charlize Theron, Gary Sinise and Dennis Farina. 101 minutes. A Dimension Films release through Alliance-Atlantis. Opens Friday (February 25). For venues and times, see First-Run Movies, page 83. Rating: NNN