Hippo Manchester
December 1, 2005

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Film: Ice Harvest (R)

by Amy Diaz

John Cusack and Billy Bob Thornton try to rip off a mob boss in the holiday-themed crime caper comedy Ice Harvest.

Most of the action in Ice Harvest takes place on Christmas Eve, much of it in a strip club. And like the flat, bitter-tasting drinks usually served at bars approaching that level of sleaze, Ice Harvest goes down hard and leaves you unsatisfied.

What makes Ice Harvest even harder to take is that it starts out rather promisingly. Charlie (Cusack) and Vic (Thornton) have just embezzled a big ole pile of money from their boss, mobster Bill Guerrard (Randy Quaid). Itís Christmas Eve and the icy rain is making the streets of Wichita, Kan., slick like a freshly waxed floor. The plan is to lay low for the night and hightail it to a warm country far far away in the morning. Assuming they live through the night.

Charlie runs into trouble almost immediately. He goes to local strip clubs, which Guerrard runs, for a drink and ends up buying rounds, waiving the floor fees for the dancers and promising Renata (Connie Nielsen), a dancer he fancies, a very valuable photo that could come in handy for blackmail purposes. Between such uncommonly generous behavior and his squirrelly reaction to the appearance of one of Guerrardís hit men, Charlie more or less outs himself as up to no good.

Like any good noir, Ice Harvest quickly fills the lull between commission of crime and enjoyment of the fruits of crime with double-crosses, miscommunications and unexpected visitations that change plans. One of those visitations is by Pete (Oliver Platt), a man who was Charlieís best friend but slept, repeatedly, with Charlieís wife and is now married to her. Apparently affair sex is a whole different game from married sex and Pete now finds himself envious of Charlie again, though this time of his bachelorhood.

Pete, who is in every scene gin-up-to-the-eyeballs drunk, is one of the most entertaining parts of Ice Harvest, his marital misery being amusingly expressed (my favorite: a rumination on his wifeís pajamas and the observation that he thought only children wore flannel feety pajamas). But even some of his regret-fueled buffoonery is difficult to take. Itís not that the jokes (Peteís or any of the allegedly funny parts of Ice Harvest) are offensive or hackey; itís that they simply go nowhere. Itís like, to go back to the alcohol theme that runs throughout the movie like brandy through a fruitcake, the jokes have been mixed wrong, with the wrong measurements, and have been rendered inconsumable.

Ice Harvest wants to slide around its slick, Elmore-Leonard-in-the-Midwest surface and get you to laugh at all the pratfalls. Instead, the ice breaks with the first footfall and the movie sinks into a murky, cold pit from which it never emerges.