Coming as it does from the director of Caddyshack and Groundhog Day, Harold Ramis’ The Ice Harvest is a surprisingly mordant and misanthropic piece of work. If your tastes run along such lines (as mine do), it’s an enjoyable neo-noir reminiscent of Blood Simple, one that’s fitfully amusing but rarely laugh-out-loud funny. But, particularly after seeing Goblet and Syriana, The Ice Harvest also feels somewhat unrealized and, for the most part, instantly forgettable. As 2 Days in the Valley and Things to do in Denver When You’re Dead are to Pulp Fiction, this movie is to Fargo…at best, it’s the type of movie you might find yourself watching on cable one thoroughly miserable holiday evening.
In a nutshell, The Ice Harvest plays like Grand Theft Auto: Wichita. (Or, put another way, it answers the question, “What if Kansas were more like Oz?”) As the film begins, we meet up with the Pushing Tin duo of John Cusack and Billy Bob Thornton — here a mob lawyer and pornographer respectively — soon after they’ve acquired over $2 million of ill-gotten loot from the coffers of the local mafioso (Randy Quaid). All they have to do is wait out the night — Christmas Eve — on account of an ice storm (which doesn’t seem to prevent them from driving around much), before skipping town for warmer climes. So, Cusack decides to hit up various strip clubs and nightspots — including one run by Wichita femme fatale Connie Nielsen (as always, deserving of better roles) and another frequented by Cusack’s alcoholic buddy (and second husband to his ex-wife) Oliver Platt (doing a variation on his Huff character) — all the while evading the mob’s muscle (Mike Starr, playing to form).
The first half of The Ice Harvest moves languorously, but it feels like it’s building to something. But…unfortunately, it’s not. Around the midway point, right when we seem to be achieving narrative momentum, the movie instead starts somewhat remorselessly killing off many of the characters we’ve recently met. Indeed, entire plotlines seem jettisoned (Cusack’s ex-wife, the incriminating photograph) in favor of a high body count. And, frankly, by the time the last folks standing get to the final, bloody shootout, I had pretty much checked out. There are definitely some amusing episodes along the way, and special marks go to Oliver Platt’s comic lush and Billy Bob Thornton’s usual brand of weary resignation (particularly involving his wife). But as a whole, The Ice Harvest just doesn’t hang together. I’m as up for a Christmas dish served ice-cold as anyone, but this harvest, despite signs of early promise, comes up fallow.