It’s Christmas and Charlie Arglist (John Cusack), with his sleazy partner, Vic (Billy Bob Thornton), just might have something to celebrate. Charlie is the attorney for Kansas City mob boss Bill Guerrard (Randy Quaid) and the mismatched duo embezzle $2 million from the mobster. Charlie, riding high on adrenalin rush of the heist, also makes impromptu plans to run off with the beautiful strip club manager, Renata (Connie Nielson). But, an ice storm descends on the Wichita Falls and everyone from his drinking buddy to the local cops wonder what’s in store for the lawyer in The Ice Harvest.”
The Ice Harvest” poses as a Christmas caper movie to take advantage of its holiday release but it really is just a dark comedy about double, triple, even quadruple crosses as Charlie tries to take his ill-gotten booty and get out of town to a better world.
John Cusack is the taciturn attorney, Charlie, who has finally put up, instead of shutting up, and skimmed the multi-million dollar embezzlement, with Vic’s help, from his boss. You know shady dealings are in the making when Vic takes all the money, for safekeeping he tells his partner, while Charlie makes peace with those around him before he leaves town. Beautiful Renata is a bit shady, too, as she flirts with the lawyer and convinces him to help her with her own problems. Charlie falls for her and, if the ice storm doesn’t strand him, he wants her to run away with him.
Who’s screwing who is pretty much the theme of “The Ice Harvest” as you try to figure it all out. It’s not all that hard as you watch the story (Richard Ross and Robert Benton adapt Scott Phillips’s novel) and can guess the film’s outcome pretty early on. `Cusack is just plain bland as Charlie and Billy Bob Thornton is wasted as the sleazy Vic. Connie Nielson is OK as the sexy temptress but Randy Quaid’s role as boss Guerrard is almost nonexistent. Helping things out hugely, though, is a funny, drunken performance by Oliver Platt as Pete, Charlie’s friend and husband to his pal’s cold, calculating ex. He gets the film’s funniest moments and does a superb job doing the drunk. Platt is the film’s saving grace, keeping it from falling into total mediocrity.
Harold Ramis has done better work and, at only 88-minutes runtime, “The Ice Harvest” seems padded and is overly long. It makes me wonder if Phillips’s novel is given justice or that it, too, is just slight. This is entertainment better left to rental so you can get up and get a snack while it plays. Unfortunately, Oliver Platt couldn’t save it. I give it a C.Laura:
It's a cold, wet and sloppy Christmas Eve in Wichita, Kansas, and lawyer Charlie Arglist (John Cusack, "Must Love Dogs") just has to keep calm until 1 a.m. That's when he and his pornographer partner Vic (Billy Bob Thornton, "Bad News Bears") are planning on flying the coop with the $2,147,000 they've stolen from their strip-club owning boss Bill Guerrard (Randy Quaid, "Vegas Vacation") in "The Ice Harvest."
Both Cusack and Thornton are coming off inferior comedies from earlier in the year and while "The Ice Harvest" is an improvement, it's a slim one. Screenwriters Robert Benton and Richard Russo ("Nobody's Fool") have recycled material from better films like "Blood Simple" and "Fargo," where the comedy runs black, no one is to be trusted and just about everyone ends up dead. "Pushing tin" costars Cusack and Thornton are recycling here as well, offering up nothing we haven't seen from them before. Oliver Platt is the reason to watch this - every scene he's in is a winner and few without him are.
Arglist's given reason to sweat right off the bat when Vic challenges him over guardianship of the loot. He perks up a bit at the Sweet Cage strip club when its proprietress colleague Renata (Connie Nielsen, "Brothers," "The Great Raid") offers a suggestive swapping of holiday gifts (she needs a blackmail photo of herself currently in Vic's possession), but the party's broken up when Guerrard's thug Roy Gelles (Mike Starr, "Jersey Girl") comes sniffing for him and Vic. Charlie, who perpetually crosses paths with a local cop, crosses Vic's line by being seen with him at a local restaurant (Vic's all for laying low), then gets saddled with his drunken ex-buddy, Pete Van Heuten (Oliver Platt, "Kinsey," TV's "Huff"), who's now married to Charlie's ex. After dumping that inert body at home to sleep it off, Charlie finds himself with two more extreme cases when he arrives at Vic's.
Blackly comedic and violent crime capers set during the holiday season have formed their own subgenre, from films like "A Simple Plan" to Thornton's own "Bad Santa" and this year's "Kiss Kiss Bang Bang." "The Ice Harvest" uses the device for its wintery landscape ("Fargo"), exploration of familial breakdown ("The Ref") and placement of one of the best soundtrack songs of the year (Alvin and the Chipmunks' "Christmas Don't Be late"). Icy surfaces abound, from slick roads and frozen lakes to the textured glass panes and pebbled aluminum entryways employed by production designer Patrizia von Brandenstein ("A Simple Plan"). The writers work in other recurring rhythms, like their clever club names (Teaseorama and The Velvet Touch, scene of a bloody torture) and the circular scrawl on every men's room wall ('As Wichita Falls...so falls Wichita Falls') and its these smaller details that give the film any flavor. In Cusack and Thornton's funniest scene, the punch lines come from supporting actor Starr who's locked inside a trunk at the time, and not the stars themselves. Nielsen is a cool femme fatale, but only Charlie will be surprised by her manipulations. Platt's the entertainer, whether brandishing a turkey leg at his icy ex-wife or pushing a drunken flirtation with a female bartender (Shana Goodsell) several degrees beyond the limit.
Charlie may be kept scrambling on the cracking ice of double and triple crosses, but the filmmakers (Harold Ramis ("Groundhog Day") directed) should have blown more snow to obscure the audience's view of the road's end. Still, "The Ice Harvest" is kissed with little crystals of wit that makes it seem like a better film than it is at least while you're watching it.
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