The Ice Harvest
R E V I E W   B Y   R I C H   C L I N E dir Harold Ramis
scr Richard Russo, Robert Benton
with John Cusack, Billy Bob Thornton, Connie Nielsen, Oliver Platt, Ned Bellamy, Randy Quaid, Mike Starr, TJ Jagodowski, Justine Bentley, Max Kirsch, David Pasquesi, Lara Phillips
release US 23.Nov.05, UK 3.Feb.06
05/US Focus 1h28

Partners in crime: Thornton and Cusack

nielsen platt quaid

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The Ice Harvest This twisty caper comedy has an enjoyably scruffy plot, but the filmmakers get the tone all wrong, missing any sense of irony or black comedy, which leaves it both unfunny and rather gruesome.

Charlie (Cusack) is a mob lawyer who's planned the perfect crime with Wichita lowlife Vic (Thornton), stealing $2.1 million from a local gangster (Quaid) on Christmas Eve. But over the long night, everyone's plans change as Charlie asks a stripper (Nielsen) to run off with him, takes care of a drunken old friend (Platt) who's now married to his ex-wife (Bentley), and tries to both outrun a vicious thug (Starr) and avoid arousing the suspicion of a local cop (Jagodowski).

There's a decent story here about a guy forced to examine his dead-end life, getting entangled in an outrageous caper and finding something new on the other side. But this isn't that film. This is about aggressively unlikeable people doing cruel and downright stupid things at every turn. Director Ramis seems to be aiming for a comical romp, but nothing raises a smile. We can see the jokes falling flat as they emerge; the desperate slapstick is painful to watch.

There's an odd tension between Christmas cheer and the story's darker, more deranged elements. Murder and vice strain against the comedy and even tragedy, never gelling at all (unlike Thornton's other anti-Christmas gem, Bad Santa). There's a clear effort to achieve Hitchcockian suspicion and suspense, but that can't work without a much more sympathetic central character. And the plot is overcomplicated and wordy, throwing around so many names and characters--and multiple names for the characters--that it's not easy to remember what's what and who's who.

At least the cast is good, with Nielsen as the standout with her pulp fiction looks and dangerous attitude. And Quaid's never been this hulkingly menacing. But there's a general feel of laziness about the film, leading up to a series of truly vile confrontation scenes. If they'd gone for a serious thriller or true gallows humour, it could have worked. But this is a mess.

cert 15 themes, violence, language, nudity 10.Jan.06

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2006 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall