‘The Ice Harvest’ is a cold-hearted dark comedy that could have used more laughs

[rating=2]Starring: John Cusack, Billy Bob Thornton, Connie Nielsen, Randy Quaid, Oliver Platt
Director(s): Harold Ramis
Writer(s): Screenplay by Richard Russo, Robert Benton; Based upon the novel by Scott Phillips

John Cusack and Billy Bob Thornton co-star in 'The Ice Harvest'
John Cusack and Billy Bob Thornton co-star in ‘The Ice Harvest’

I think one of the more difficult formulas to mix are thrillers and comedies. More often than not, a thriller that tries to be funny only ends up ruining the tension with bad jokes. The Ice Harvest isn’t a comedy, and could have been a pretty good thriller, had director Harold Ramis simply let it be one. Instead he tried to insert element of dark humor that worked against the film instead of serving it.

But that’s not really where The Ice Harvest went wrong. I actually enjoyed some of the lighter moments, and most of which came out through the efforts of the underappreciated Oliver Platt. The Ice Harvest fails to work because the story never gives you a character worth watching. It leaps into the story and merely hopes that you’ll take the ride along with John Cusack’s Charlie because it is John Cusack. But you never get a chance to like him. The story just moves along, filled with plenty of plot, but no trace of a heart. Plus, it operates as if it doesn’t have to get you to like any of the people in the film. There’s a strange disconnect where it simply expects you’re going to like the characters enough to stay with them for an hour and a half, never providing you with a single reason to actually do so.

The story has Charlie (Cusack) coping with the idea that he and his “friend”, Vic (Billy Bob Thornton) have successfully stolen $2 million from the mob. Except, they weren’t completely successful, and as they wait out an ice storm a hit man has arrived to collect the money and take care of the two men.

It’s a great idea, I think, and there is a terrific thriller hidden someone in The Ice Harvest. I imagine the book did a better job of telling the story than the film versiondoes. But as the end nears and everyone naturally begins turning on one another, you don’t really care who ends up with the dough. There’s nothing to like or sympathize with in Charlie or Vic or any of the other characters. As they start to betray one another, you’re not rooting for this one or that guy, you’re just sitting and waiting to see who comes out on top. There’s no emotional involvement on the part of the audience, and that’s where The Ice Harvest failed.

The actors all do great work. Cusack is his usual charming self, although not enough to make you give a darn about the character. Thornton is cold, Connie Nielsen is hot, and Randy Quaid is bizarre. Platt is the only likeable fellow in the entire film, but spends too much of it in a drunken stupor. Ramis attempted to stretch himself here, and I can do nothing but applaud him for his effort. He almost crafted a great film, but didn’t spend enough time on getting the audience involved.

The DVD has a few extras, including three alternate endings (all of which stink when compared to the actual ending); an outtake with Billy Bob Thornton that’s pretty funny; and several behind the scenes featurettes. There’s also a great audio commentary with Ramis, who comes off as sincere about this efforts.

It may not be perfect, but The Ice Harvest does offer a few good moments. I can’t completely recommend the film, but I would say it’s worth giving a shot. Perhaps you’ll have a different reaction than myself. I think its one of those films that you’ll really enjoy, or simply dismiss.

Rated: R
Run Time: 1 hr., 32 mins.

Michael Sheridan

Michael Sheridan has written, directed and produced more than a dozen short films under the banner of Maynard Films, and has worked as a writer for more than a decade for websites, magazines and newspapers.

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