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If I'm going to start off the 2005 Christmas season right, I guess I ought to do so with a review of the latest bundle of holiday joy in movie theaters at this moment. What better way than with a tale of greed, deception, and murder, all of which just so happens to fall on Christmas Eve?
Harold Ramis has delivered some of the finest comedies to come out of Hollywood (Vacation, Caddyshack, Groundhog Day) as well as some of the most inherently average comedies to come out of Hollywood (Multiplicity, Analyze This, Stuart Saves His Family) in the last couple of decades. However, he's always stuck to funny business. I was certainly intrigued to know he was doing something a little dark and different. It was also a selling point that John Cusack and Billy Bob Thornton would have a chance to make up for the dud that was Pushing Tin and that Oliver Platt could again put in a comedic performance that might take me one step closer to forgetting that he made Ready to Rumble.
So I saw it. And I gotta say, The Ice Harvest isn't a bad movie. It's probably a pretty good movie if you've never seen any modern attempt at film noir, but it doesn't really break any new ground. It's also one of those films whose twists and turns you can see coming from a mile away, but fortunately, none of them are so ridiculous that they negate previous plot points (otherwise known as the Reindeer Games effect, another holiday thriller that might get reviewed here very shortly).
The film in a nutshell is about two guys named Charlie (Cusack) and Vic (Thornton), a mob lawyer and strip club owner respectively, who decide to skim a little Christmas bonus off the local mob boss on the eve of Jesus's birthday. As it's a 2 million dollar bonus, they realize they need to skip town, as long as they can make it through the night. Charlie and Vic split up, and Charlie gets to play babysitter for his drunken sot buddy Pete (Platt) who just so happens to be married to Charlie's ex-wife.
Charlie and Pete run about Wichita (yes, this movie takes place in Wichita) in a drunken stupor for a good portion of the evening, but Charlie's attention is all over the fact that hitman Roy Gelles seems to be hunting him down. He's also leaving tons of un-Charlie-like clues that he's planning on skipping town; comping strippers' drinks and covering their stage fees, buying last-minute stocking stuffers for his kids, and doing favors for the local nudie bar's manager, Renata (Connie Nielsen).
Things happen. Roy catches up with Vic and Charlie, Charlie confesses his affection for Renata, and mob boss Bill Guerrard (Randy Quaid) shows up in time for the film's climax. All the pieces eventually fall in to place after the requisite twists and turns, and I'll leave you all to guess who stands tall once the dust has settled.
I like the fact that the movie doesn't waste a lot of time in setting the stage. In our opening sequence, Charlie and Vic already have the dough in their hands and are hammering out their plans to get the hell out of Dodge. There's a lot of good chemistry with Cusack and Thornton, which is probably why they chose to work together again despite the fact that their last project together was a little disappointing. And, thanks to the screenplay and a capable comic director in Ramis, there's a lot of stuff to make you laugh in between the people dying and what not. A long sequence involving a large (and very full) foot locker springs to mind as one of the better bits of comedy here.
Cusack really helps steer the film along as Charlie. Cusack's genuine charm keeps you interested and concerned for Charlie. Think a slightly more melancholy (and pickled) Martin Blank from Grosse Pointe Blank if you want to pin down his character. Thornton doesn't really stretch too much to pull off Vic, but that's not really a problem here. Oliver Platt steals the show as Pete, acting just like that drunk guy you're glad you don't have to deal with on Christmas Eve.
Unfortunately, the film is not without its flaws. There is absolutely no chemistry between Charlie and Renata, despite the fact that there's supposed to be some long-standing attraction between them. There's also the little matter of the trail of breadcrumbs that are left behind after all the crimes are committed. Even if our heroes get away at the end, they're not going to make it far before they're pinned down for their actions. And, as I already mentioned, it's a little too predictable. It's so predictable, in fact, that I was starting to doubt that things were going to actually fall that way just to tick me off. But this film really isn't about the outcome -- it's about getting there.
While it ain't perfect, The Ice Harvest is a nice little showcase for Ramis's first venture outside of straightforward comedy. It's also well worth watching for some of the performances here. Don't go in to this expecting a completely unique experience, but it's certainly not the worst way you could spend an hour and a half this holiday season.
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