The Ice Harvest is a poor man’s cross between the Cohen brothers’ Blood Simple and Fargo, with a sprinkle of atmosphere copped from The Ice Storm, albeit at Christmas. It’s an anti-Christmas black comedy for every card-carrying Grinch.
Set in the wicked cold temperatures of a Wichita Falls Christmas Eve, the movie kicks off with a barely glimpsed successful heist of $2,147,000 in cash by an unlikely duo of incompetent thieves played by John Cusack and Billy Bob Thornton. Thornton’s laid-back pornographer character Vic advises crooked mob lawyer Charlie (Cusack) to act “normal” while he (Vic) keeps their loot safe until the next morning, by which time the overnight freezing rain will have sufficiently thawed for them to escape on a morning flight to an undisclosed tropical locale.
Charlie predictably falls prey to his own insecurities and telegraphs his guilt to everyone he encounters as he bounces between strip clubs like a bee collecting pollen. John Cusack heats up his character’s vulnerability to a carbuncle over his misguided affection for a wily stripper named Renata (Connie Nielsen—The Hunted). When he isn’t making plans for Renata to run away with him, Charlie does some holiday family visiting with his alcoholic best friend Pete (comically played by Oliver Platt), who has done Charlie the favor of marrying Charlie’s ice queen ex-wife.
One particularly funny gag has Charlie assisting Pete in recovering a testicle kicked into Pete’s “body cavity” by the boyfriend of a female bartender that Pete verbally insulted in his inebriated state. Oliver Platt steals the movie with his take-no-prisoners comic approach to pratfalls and colorful verbal ramblings. Platt performs a seemingly impossible task of making you like him in spite of his horribly offensive behavior.
Director Harold Ramis (Caddyshack) doesn’t provoke enough variety in tempo to make the script’s pitch black punchlines pay off as much as they should. The movie also suffers from some miscasting of secondary characters that hinders the comedy just when it should ping off of the screen like a pinball bouncing between bumpers and bells.
A recurring subplot has an incompetent Wichita policeman (T.J. Jagodowski) repeatedly catching Charlie at inopportune moments, before letting him off the hook so that Charlie will put in a good word for him with the local mob boss. Jagodowski is too lax to milk the pregnant scenes for their comic potential and you can’t help wonder about the list of comic actors who could have done so much more with the role.EE
This is a holiday movie for the have-nots and the I’m-nots, who know that ice is the only thing in the world that is what it’s cracked up to be. Sure it’s a flawed premise that two desperate thieves would wait to leave town after a robbery just because the streets are frozen, but somebody’s got to visit Wichita strip clubs on Christmas Eve.E MTW