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The Ice Harvest Review

By Shawn McKenzie 11/23/2005

Black comedies are usually about either death and/or murder.  In most cases, I absolutely love them.  In the case of The Ice Harvest, I think that my high expectations let me down.

Charlie Arglist (John Cusack) is a mob lawyer in Wichita, Kansas, working for mob boss/strip club owner Bill Guerrard (Randy Quaid.)  It’s Christmas Eve, and he has just embezzled $2,147,000 from his boss with pornographer/strip club manager of the Velvet Touch Vincent “Vic” Cavanaugh (Billy Bob Thornton.)  All he has to do is lay low for a few hours while the weather and roads clear up as an ice storm moves in.  Vic advises Charlie to play it cool and they will be home free, but Charlie is nervous.  He heard that one of Bill’s henchmen, Roy Gelles (Mike Starr), is looking for him at another strip club called the Sweet Cage.  Charlie runs into a couple of complications as well along the way.  A woman that he likes, Renata (Connie Nielsen), makes him a proposition.  She is the manager of the Sweet Cage, and a politician named Councilman Williams (David Pasquesi) is trying to enforce the no nude dancing law.  She wants Charlie to retrieve a compromising photo of her with Williams in order to blackmail him, but the photo is in a safe in the Velvet Touch.  Charlie likes Renata, so he does the favor, and subtly tells her that he has gotten into some money and that they should run away together.  Also, his best friend, Pete Van Heuten (Oliver Platt) is drunk and messed up.  Pete is currently married to Charlie’s ex-wife Sarabeth (Justine Bentley), but they are going through rocky times.  He keeps telling everyone that Charlie’s a mob lawyer, which Charlie isn’t very happy about.  He has to baby-sit the drunken Pete, who is on the way to a family Christmas dinner with Sarabeth and her children, Spencer (Max Kirsh) and Melissa (Caroline Gehrke), and her parents, Stan (Steve King) and Dottie (Laura Whyte.)  Aside from Renata and Pete, he also keeps running into a street cop named R.P. Tyler (T.J. Jagodowski), who is hoping that Charlie will put in a good word with Bill (Tyler is obviously on Bill’s payroll.)  After Pete passes out, Charlie takes him to Vic’s house, where Vic has taken care of his wife Gladys (Lindsey Porter) and has put a captured Roy in a trunk (and for some odd reason he forgot to take Roy’s gun away from him before putting him in the trunk.)  Charlie and Vic need to get rid of Roy and leave town before Bill catches them.

I thought that this movie had every element of being one of the best ones of the year.  It had two leads that were veterans of black comedies (Cusack was in 1997’s Grosse Point Blank; Thornton was in 2003’s Bad Santa; both of them were excellent films.)  The director of this movie was comic actor Harold Ramis, who has helmed some of the best comedies of the last 25 years (1980’s Caddyshack; 1983’s National Lampoon’s Vacation; 1993’s Groundhog Day; 1999’s Analyze This.)  So why am I not giving it a higher rating?  It was just not as funny as I thought it would be.  My determination of a five-star comedy is when I laugh so much I practically cry.  This movie was very funny, but it didn’t leave me rolling.  It was also very predictable.  I saw all of the double crosses in the movie from a mile away.

It wasn’t the fault of the actors.  Cusack has been one of my favorite comic actors for years.  He has done some of the best romantic comedies of the last twenty years, and as I’ve stated above, he is also good at black comedies.  I’d like to say that he had chemistry with Nielsen, but she is barely in the movie (or at least she isn’t in it long enough that I would consider it a “lead role.”)  Thornton has played so many sleazy characters that it seems to be second nature to him.  Platt was probably the funniest and most intentionally frustrating person in the movie.  He is drunk throughout the film so convincingly that I wouldn’t be surprised if he was actually drunk while acting in it.  Quaid is a blip on the screen, but he makes the most of his appearance.  Starr is pretty funny too, even though he is mostly not seen because he is stuffed in a trunk through most of his appearance.

Maybe it’s my fault for thinking that The Ice Harvest would be up there alongside some of Ramis’s best films.  When you have expectations for a movie, whether it be high or low expectations, it can harm your opinion in the end.  I liked the movie, and I would recommend seeing a matinee or renting the DVD when it comes out, but it’s not the best Thanksgiving release coming out.  Check out Just Friends if you are single after you eat that turkey, or a slew of other great movies that have been recently released in the last few weeks after eating that pumpkin pie.


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