|The Ice Harvest (2005)
Starring: John Cusack, Billy Bob Thornton, Connie Neilsen, Randy Quaid, Oliver Platt
Director: Harold Ramis
ALSO! Click here to read our interview with the director.
“The Ice Harvest” plays like a Frankenstein monster of a crime thriller. You have the inept thieves, ala “Fargo,” the humorous heavy, ala “Get Shorty,” with the rest of the story filled out by those noir standards the femme fatale and doublecross after doublecross after doublecross. It all works okay, but it doesn’t do anything that some other movie hasn’t done better. The TV spots, marketing the movie as a big time comedy, couldn’t be more misleading. Sure, it’s amusing, and occasionally laugh-out-loud funny. But hilarious? Not even close.
John Cusack stars as Charlie Arglist, a Mob lawyer in Wichita Falls who, along with fellow hoodlum Vic (Billy Bob Thornton), steals over $2 million in cash from Charlie’s biggest client, Bill Guerrard (Randy Quaid) on Christmas Eve and plans to skip town. All they need to do is lay low for a few hours, get some affairs in order, and then they’re home free. Charlie, however, can’t seem to get anything in order; his buddy Pete (Oliver Platt), who’s married to Charlie’s ex-wife, is stinking drunk at a bar, and a friend asks Charlie to look out for him. Charlie would much rather be back at the strip club run by Renata (Connie Neilsen), in a last gasp attempt to get her into the sack before he disappears. The problem is that he’s a complete idiot about impressing her; Charlie comps drinks left and right, and covers the stripper’ fees for dancing. Now comes word that a heavy named Roy Gelles (Mike Starr) is asking around about Charlie’s whereabouts. Charlie rightly gets nervous, and wants to get moving. But no one else, it seems, will let him leave town in peace.
The movie’s director, Harold Ramis, knows funny. He’s directed, written, or starred in some of the funniest movies of the last 25 years. And yet, I am compelled to reiterate: this is not a comedy. A thriller with hints of black comedy, perhaps, but this movie doesn’t contain a single scene like Frances McDormand interviewing the two clueless hookers in “Fargo.” That, my friends, is comedy. This is comedy along the lines of “Oswald was a fag,” from “The Usual Suspects,” bits that may induce a chuckle, but rarely more. One rare exception comes when Pete confesses to Charlie that he was doing Charlie’s wife during their last year of marriage. “Don’t you want to hit me? Aren’t you angry?” Pete inquires. “No, I’m curious,” Charlie responds, and Pete takes the bait. “About what?” he asks. “About who she’s fucking now,” Charlie deadpans. Game, set, match.
It’s a shame, really, because a story as transparent as this one could have used a whole lot more moments like that. It isn’t that the movie’s chain of events is dumb, or implausible, but rather that you pretty much know how things are going to go down within the first 15 minutes. Neilsen plays Renata like a morally compromised Jessica Rabbit, clearly working with ulterior motives but still able to use her assets to get what she wants. Platt is amusing but obnoxious as the drunkard Pete, and the filmmakers did a lousy job of setting up his character (he’s too busy playing Basil Exposition and setting up everyone else). And yet, he still manages to steal nearly every scene he’s in. Thornton is, well, Thornton. He has his moments, but he’s treated as a peripheral character almost from the get-go, and we soon begin to treat him like one as well. As for Cusack, well, at least it isn’t another “Must Love Dogs.” But while he may love playing less than savory characters, Charlie is no Martin Blank, that’s for sure.
“The Ice Harvest” may have been something special at some point in time, but not now, not after “Get Shorty,” “Out of Sight,” “Fargo” and “The Usual Suspects” are fresh in our collective memories. It feels too old and too borrowed, as opposed to new and blue.
The widescreen DVD release of "The Ice Harvest" isn't anything special, but it's got enough bonus material to please most fans of the film, including an excellent director commentary by Harold Ramis, and outtake reel with Billy Bob Thorton and two alternate endings. Also featured on the single-disc release is a short analysis of the lake sequence ("Ice Cracking), a sit-down with the author and screenwriters ("Cracking the Story") and a behind-the-scenes look at the film ("Beneath the Harvest").