The good guys don't reap in `The Ice Harvest'

MovieReview B-

November 23, 2005|By MICHAEL SRAGOW | MICHAEL SRAGOW,SUN MOVIE CRITIC

In a foul-mood comedy like The Ice Harvest, every potentially likable man or woman proves to be malignant, painfully limited or just pitifully weak. And that's what makes it satisfying.

It's a rhythmless, graceless piece of filmmaking. But if you have an ounce of misanthropy in your body, a picture like this can draw it to the surface the way a leech draws blood.

In the opening voiceover narration, John Cusack as a Kansas mob lawyer - not someone you see onscreen every day - dangles the prospect of a perfect crime in front of the audience. Within seconds, he and his partner-in-crime, Billy Bob Thornton, are hauling away more than $2 million of the mob's money.

But The Ice Harvest is no caper film. It's a rancid wish fulfillment about getting away with grand larceny and murder. After the robbery or embezzlement (the movie's none too clear on the mechanics), Cusack discovers that he can't trust anybody except the poor slob who took his trophy wife away from him. And he finds he just may be able to survive without them.

Director Harold Ramis and screenwriters Richard Russo and Robert Benton (working from Scott Phillips' novel) set The Ice Harvest during Christmas Eve and Christmas. If the movie had a religious sign, it would be the double cross. If you see a character who actually appears to be innocent, such as an over-eager cop, my advice is, don't grow too fond of him.

The acting might have been spunkier if Thornton and Cusack switched roles. Thornton has been convincingly degenerate for too long; his performance lacks freshness and surprise. Cusack, on the other hand, proves to be compellingly dissolute. At times you wonder whether he's thinking or evaporating.

Randy Quaid acts everyone else off the screen (as usual) in just one scene. Oliver Platt brings his burly libidinous rebelliousness to the fool who cuckolded Cusack then wound up in the same spot. Connie Nielsen makes a swell femme fatale: many a man would follow her to perdition any time.

But Cusack's bizarre, in-and-out expressions of confusion and boredom are what fill the frame with white-collar angst and make sense of the inscrutable title. Think of The Ice Harvest as a burlesque of that middle-class malaise-fest The Ice Storm, peopled with bouncers, strippers and small-time rockers. It's as if the filmmakers had taken the supporting characters from The Sopranos, plopped them down in the Midwest, and stripped them of that certain badda-bing. All that's left is naked lust and greed.

michael.sragow@baltsun.com

The Ice Harvest (Focus Features)

Starring John Cusack and Billy Bob Thornton.

Directed by Harold Ramis.

Rated R.

Time 88 minutes

Review B-

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