The Ice Harvest (2005)
(Release Date: November 23, 2005)
(Premiere Date: September 3, 2005 [Deauville Film Festival - France])

It's a big tale of a Mob Hit... and miss!

J.C. Mašek III
The World's Greatest Critic!

It's a bizarre truth of mine that two of my very best friends have unexpectedly moved to Wichita, Kansas within the same month, independently of each other and from different states. Naturally, though they've never met, both have indicated that it must be an omen and that I should plan to move there as well. I respond with a nice little paraphrase of Steely Dan: "When California crumbles into the sea, that'll be the day I go back to Wichita!"

I've actually never been there, but I'm rather confined by my classic rock quotes. In fact, I'm sure it's a lovely place, at least for a visit. Well, I mean, I DID, until I saw The Ice Harvest, the recently released Harold Ramis flick about a group of people trying desperately to get the eff-you-see-kay out of Double-you-Eye-See-aitch... ah, never mind!

The Ice Harvest begins as a somewhat black comedy, with the emphasis on the Comic, against a background of the dark. John Cusack plays a somewhat down-to-Earth mafia lawyer with a big brain and no guts, named Charlie. On the other hand, Billy Bob Thornton's Vic isn't the most book smart fellow in Cyclone-Land, but he's got as much street smarts as he has cojones!

The combination proves fruitful, and our two amigos manage to skim over two million bucks for themselves from Kingpin Bill Guerrard's (Randy Quaid) personal stash. Quicker than you can say "Now that's darned rude!", Billy Bob and Johnny Boy are tightening up loose ends in preparation of fleeing the nation with a big bag full of bright-green rations!

Of course, there's a monkey-wrench thrown into this caper, and it's a woman. Isn't it always a woman in flicks like this? Connie Nielsen's hot stripper-madam Renata is the object of Cusack's unrequited love and affection, and he's game for either taking her with him, or obtaining that prized goodbye roll-roll-roll in the hay. There is a bit of laugher as Cusack bar hops and faces off with the demons of his past (including his ex-wife, and Oliver Platt, the former best friend who married her), however, much of it proves forced as The Ice Harvest skids through its set up, adding more and more black to the comedy.

Midway through, The Ice Harvest hits such a low level of reprehensible morality that it dispenses with the comedy almost completely, and one wonders who just ran over Ramis' kitty cat! Ironically, it's about this point at which it sheds all aspirations to comedy and becomes a noir thriller that the film starts to get pretty good! One by one the dominos fall to construct an interesting second act, rife with intrigue and surprise. Not that all of it quite works, but it's fun as hell to watch.

Unfortunately the transition between moods is far from seamless. Harold Ramis is quite adept at directing comedy, even black comedy, and he has surprisingly proven himself to be pretty damned good at directing dark and violent thrillers (this is no Pulp Fiction, but there is enough "bloody pulp" to almost make you think that it is). Unfortunately, The Ice Harvest shows that he isn't quite the skilled auteur with both at the same time. It's either one or the other. To be fair, he (or the writers who adapted Scott Phillips' original novel) may have been shooting for an abrupt transition midway to shock the audience like a winter dive from a hot tub into a freezing swimming pool. It just doesn't feel like quite the "good job" it could have been.

Wichita is shown as a bleak and frost-covered hell hole, especially around Christmas time, which is about as jolly as severe intestinal surgery in this movie. The imagery fits the film well, as does the discontent of the characters who are "trapped in paradise". However, this film gives the impression of an edited down novel, suggesting that the original book handled it all a bit more effectively, and offered up supporting characters and secondary plot lines in a more developed manner. Hence the "surprises" turning up medium-well and the finale not making as much sense as it could or should.

On the other hand, this does add a whole new dimension to what we think we know of old "Egon" and what he's capable of. It's an expectation-skewering directorial job, backed up by some fantastic acting from all the leads. It's a pretty good film that survives on its own merits, even if it does miss "greatness". Three Stars out of Five for the Focus Feature The Ice Harvest, and entertaining, if uneven comedy thriller. Regardless, it does add yet another reason that John Cusack is an actor worth watching in just about anything, and at his worst he manages to be as likeable as a kindergarten teacher on a field trip to Knott's Berry Farm. Now, if you'll excuse me, I have to apologize to my wife for having interrupted a therapy session with one of her patients at this here "Women's Center". I got the evil eye this time but, in all fairness, I did leave the toilet seat up, so I probably deserve a little emasculation. Connie Nielsen hath no fury like Sweet Suz in Sass!

You mean next semester, before the Ice Harvest?
Luke, the Ice Harvest is when I need you most!
Next season we can hire some new hands, all of whom can

The Ice Harvest (2005) reviewed by J.C. Mašek III who is solely responsible for his reviews and for the fact that he moved his family to Southern California because Louisiana was too damned cold! It's true! It's True!
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