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Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Review: The Ice Harvest

Question: How do you put John Cusack and Billy Bob Thornton in a movie directed by Harold Ramis and end up with something les appetizing than uncooked tofu? It’s a serious question because it takes special talent to ruin those ingredients.

The Ice Harvest tries to be a black comedy/crime caper in the same style as the far superior Fargo. It starts with a simple crime job that quickly grows complicated, is splashed with more than a touch of violence, and ends up with a respectable body count. But it isn’t funny and it doesn’t seem to have much to say about crime, criminals, or family.

Cusack is serviceable as a dirty lawyer, rotten ex-husband, and nervous criminal. Thornton is reasonably convincing as the town smut peddler and the vicious animating force behind the crime. But, really, who cares? The scenes with their respective families are so truncated as to seem to be afterthoughts and neither of them has that fun-loving criminal aspect that might encourage the audience to root for them regardless of their felonious activities.

People show up, people die, people occasionally do vaguely humorous things, and then the movie is over. Perhaps the problem is that this entire genre has been pretty well mined in recent years; it was hard to escape a feeling of over-familiarity with the characters, the plot, and the jokes. Or maybe the problem is that the script isn’t particularly witty or interesting. The worst possibility--and one that may, sadly, be spot-on--is that Ramis direction is pedestrian. The Ice Harvest really isn’t his style.

Whatever the cause, one of the only consistent bright spots in this disappointing film is Oliver Platt as a pathetic, loudmouth drunk. He’s the only character to get much more than a chuckle, but, given his limited screen time, it’s a sad commentary that he manages to steal the spotlight.

For a genuinely funny movie with a high body count, see Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang. For a movie with more of a moral edge, see the superb and underappreciated A Simple Plan. But don’t bother wasting your time on the tepid, uninspired The Ice Harvest.


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