Opening with a grim flash-forward of numerous Santa Clauses lying mangled in the snow, Deception's aim is clearly to keep you guessing as to how such a happy beginning - (guilty yet vigorous sex with Charlize Theron) - can end in such a joyless mess. And since it's confident enough to show you the start, then surely the route to this disaster must be something more imaginative than a bunch of squabbling, incompetent criminals dumbly walking into the security guards' blazing guns?
Sadly, no. This is the screenplay which won writer Ehren Kruger the gig on Scream 3. And just as he turned in a lacklustre climax to the once white-hot Scream franchise, so he takes a good premise and dilutes it with a load of listless set-pieces and trashy revelations.
At the centre is Ben Affleck's festively monickered Rudy, who's obviously the product of Affleck's attempts to rough up his squeaky clean image. In this respect he starts off quite well by lying to get into Charlize Theron's pants (who wouldn't?) and planning on running off the moment the holiday season ends. While this is slightly crueller than his character in Forces Of Nature, the moment Gabriel (Sinise) turns up, Ben's back to playing the good guy as Gabriel grabs all arch-baddie honours by shooting down innocent passers-by, dispensing random beatings and using Rudy as an impromptu dart board.
Trapped by his own lie, Rudy realises that if he admits to not being Nick, then they'll kill him, but if he doesn't, then he'll be the first man through the doors in a blunderous casino heist based on his non-existent insider knowledge. Wisely, he tries to adopt Plan C, which involves various abortive attempts to escape with Theron's Ashley which make up the majority of the running time and amount to very little of interest.
To its credit, Deception succeeds at being the coldest, most miserable-looking film since Fargo. Set in mid-winter Michigan and filmed through bleak, blue filters, the dull two-storey motels, squat breezeblock casino and generic pit-stop cafes are linked by windblown roads and slushy car parks in a distinctly un-Winter Wonderlandy snowscape. All of this is refreshingly different from Hollywood's typically sun-drenched Californian settings - but while it should be a contrastingly icy background to some hot, tense action, it simply conspires with the droning plot to make you shiver.
And here's the final oddity. Originally titled Reindeer Games (as in "they wouldn't let poor Rudy join in any..."), the movie missed its Christmas release date in the States by a couple of months, and makes it to Blighty just in time for the summer. Which isn't the greatest timing for a film so full of snow, Santas and just plain stupid plotting.