Ice Harvest, The (United States, 2005)

A movie review by James Berardinelli

There are those, including the distributor, who would like audiences to believe that The Ice Harvest is a comedy. At first glance, that's not so hard to accept. After all, director Harold Ramis was one of the Ghostbusters co-writers and scored a big hit with Groundhog Day. But Ramis' funniest work is at least a decade behind him and, while The Ice Harvest has moments of dark, macabre humor, it's pretty much a straightforward film noir tale. You may laugh, but it won't be often or with much gusto. This is strictly B-movie fare. It tries to do some of the same things as Kiss Kiss Bang Bang and suffers as a result of the comparison.

Our hero is a loser lawyer by the name of Charlie Arglist (John Cusack). Charlie isn't a very nice person, but since he's played by an actor everyone likes, we tend to overlook Charlie's least appealing characteristics (such as the disdain with which he treats his children). Partnered with Vic (Billy Bob Thorton), who has the guts Charlie lacks, the sad-sack attorney figures out how to steal $2 million from his boss, Bill Guerrard (Randy Quaid), on Christmas Eve. After the deed is done, all he and Vic have to do is go their separate ways for a few hours, meet up at 1:00 am, split the money, and ride off into the sunset. Charlie would like to take along his idea of the perfect woman, strip joint owner Renata (Connie Nielsen), but that would mean telling her more than is wise. Meanwhile, one of Bill's enforcers (Mike Starr) has arrived in town and is asking questions about Charlie and Vic. And Charlie's footsteps are dogged by his drunk best friend, Pete (Oliver Platt), who wants nothing more than to spend Christmas with his buddy (rather than his wife, who happens to be Charlie's ex).

This being film noir, there are plenty of murders, script contortions, red herrings, and double-crosses. It's hard to say whether the ending is "happy" or not - it depends on how you define the word, and I won't go into detail here. There are some laughs to be had, but this is a mismatch for Ramis, whose forte has never been dark material. It's hard to say whether Joel and Ethan Coen could have had more success with the script, but the result would have been more interesting. The Ice Harvest lacks the comic momentum necessary to make it more memorable than a run-of-the-mill thriller.

I have seen the movie compared to Bad Santa, but it's an inappropriate comparison. There are three superficial similarities - the Christmas setting, a rogues' gallery of characters, and the presence of Billy Bob Thornton - but the films are radically different in tone, intent, and storyline. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang is a closer match, although that film is better and more energetic. For anyone on the lookout for a holiday-themed motion picture, this probably isn't going to scratch the itch.

Can it still be said that John Cusack possesses "boyish charm," even though he's in his 40th year on earth? He makes Charlie identifiable. On the surface, he's an unappealing guy, but Cusack gives him enough likeability that we find ourselves rooting for him. Billy Bob Thornton does his usual schtick - the amoral thug with flashes of charm and a heart of lead. Connie Nielsen is miscast as the femme fatale (originally, the role was ticketed for Monica Bellucci). She's not all that interesting or sexy. Randy Quaid, playing against type (he's not a buffoon), adds a jolt of energy, but he doesn't show up until late in the movie. Oliver Platt does a good job portraying a drunk, but a little bit of this kind of character goes a long way, and I found myself wishing he would fall face-down in a gutter somewhere and stay there.

The Ice Harvest has a short running time of 88 minutes. Despite its brevity, it seems padded, with all sorts of irrelevant scenes and dead-end subplots taking up time. It's hard to figure out who the target audience is, since serviceable-yet-unremarkable B-movies rarely do much business. Next time, Ramis should work to his strengths, and film noir isn't one of them. The Ice Harvest will have melted away long before the turkey leftovers are polished off.

Ice Harvest, The (United States, 2005)

Run Time: 1:28
U.S. Release Date: 2005-11-23
MPAA Rating: "R" (Violence, Profanity, Sexual Situations, Nudity)
Subtitles: none
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1