Nick Cassidy and Rudy Duncan are cellmates in prison two days away from release. Nick has been corresponding with a young woman named Ashley Mercer, who is waiting for him on the outside. After Nick takes a shiv in a prison fight and dies, Rudy, who just wants to have a cup of hot chocolate after he reunites with his family a week before Christmas, takes his place and lets the beautiful Ashley think he is the one who has been writing her. Gabriel, the leader of a gang who assaults Rudy and Ashley in their cabin, is Ashley's brother, telling "Nick" that the gang, with Nick's help, will rob the casino he used to work at. Rudy reveals he is not Nick, but Ashley continues to confirm he is and that she wrote to him knowing Gabriel was going to kidnap and force Rudy to assist in the robbery. Rudy, while furious with Ashley, is reluctantly forced to go along with his ruse.
Using the information from the real Nick’s prison cell stories, Rudy is able to devise a robbery plan and informs Gabriel that the biggest loot is hidden inside a safe in the manager’s office (the "PowWow" safe). On the night of the robbery, Rudy breaks out of his holding in order to find a way to arm himself as he knows Gabriel will kill him after the robbery. He stumbles upon Gabriel and Ashley and learns that they are lovers and partners in crime.
The group robs the casino, each dressed as Santa Claus. Rudy, forced to take part in the robbery, hides the fact that he knows Ashley’s secret. Shots are fired and security guards and Santas are shot. Ashley drives into the Casino and lets Nick/Rudy know she is in on the heist. All meeting in the manager's office, Gabriel introduces Rudy to the casino manager as Nick but the manager recognizes that he isn’t Nick and Rudy confesses. Gabriel, furious at Rudy’s deception, spares him for a moment when he demands to know where the "PowWow” safe is. When the manager opens the safe, he grabs guns from inside and kills one of the robbers as the rest flee. The casino manager dies during the shootout. Rudy kills another one of the robbers and is then grabbed by Gabriel and Ashley who tie him up in their 18-wheeler truck.
They plan to drive him off the edge of a cliff in a burning vehicle with a little of the money so that officials will guess all had been burned. After accidentally revealing too much information during an argument with Rudy, Ashley shoots and kills the now suspicious Gabriel. Shortly after, Nick appears, having staged his death at the prison. It is revealed that Ashley's real name is Millie Bobeck and Rudy learns that the two had collaborated to rob the casino using Rudy and Gabriel and his gang. Ashley had known the entire time who Rudy truly was. Nick also informs Rudy that the prison stories were part of a set-up.
After they tie Rudy to the steering wheel to drive off the cliff, he produces a knife he had gotten earlier, cuts his bindings, hot wires the car, sets it to reverse and crushes Nick. With Ashley firing at him, he rams the fiery car into her and dives out as the car and Ashley go over the cliff. Nick tries to convince Rudy that they can share the money but Rudy locks him in the truck and also sends it over the cliff. Rudy picks up the stolen cash and begins distributing it in mailboxes he comes across on the way home to his family, and he eats a Christmas dinner with them. The film closes with Rudy smiling.Ben Affleck as Rudy Duncan
Gary Sinise as Gabriel Mercer
Charlize Theron as Ashley Mercer/Millie Bobeck
Donal Logue as Pug
Danny Trejo as Jumpy
Clarence Williams III as Merlin
James Frain as Nick Cassidy
Dennis Farina as Jack Bangs
Dana Stubblefield as The Alamo
Isaac Hayes as Zook
Ashton Kutcher as College kid
Ron Jeremy as Prisoner #1 (as Ron Hyatt)
Jimmy Herman as Bartender
The film was set in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan but was shot in Vancouver and Prince George, British Columbia, Canada. Shooting began on March 15, 1999.
Vin Diesel was originally cast as Pug, but had disagreements with John Frankenheimer in relation to the script and his character that led to him leaving the project before production began to instead film The Fast and the Furious.
The film was screened to test audiences who had a mixed response. This resulted in additional editing and some scenes being re-shot; the release date was pushed back from Christmas 1999 to February 2000.
Reindeer Games received generally poor reviews and was not a commercial success. The review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes reported that 25% of critics gave the film a positive review, based on a sample of 87 reviews, with an average score of 4.2/10. Metacritic, which assigns a weighted average score out of 100 from reviews by mainstream critics, gave a film rating of 37/100 based on 33 reviews.
In a 2007 interview with Esquire, Charlize Theron said that she considered this movie as the worst film she ever did, saying that "Reindeer Games was not a good movie, but I did it because I loved John Frankenheimer." A CNN review said: "Reindeer Games isn't at the bottom of his creative barrel, but it's close." On a $42 million budget, the film grossed $32,168,970 worldwide.