December 1, 2005
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.
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.