A messy collision of grisly film noir tactics and humor stemming from middle-age resignation, “The Ice Harvest” never quite finds its footing. Director Harold Ramis (“Groundhog Day”) injects his fascination with mining the existential quandaries of males for both laughs and pathos into the movie. But Ramis also is trying something new here by dabbling in startling bursts of violence in the vein of Quentin Tarantino and the Coen Brothers.
While scenes of carnage — such as mangling a character’s face with shotgun buckshot — have a visceral impact, they come off as hollow exercises dictated by the movie’s crime caper genre. In other words, the fit is all wrong. For a director with such a big heart, dabbling in nihilism feels awkward, even if it is technically proficient. That makes “The Ice Harvest” all the more disappointing. The movie panders through its use of violence when it could have more wisely used its running time for its biggest asset, an unflinchingly cynical and hilarious depiction of failed marriages and midlife disappointment.
The film centers on a mob lawyer played by John Cusack, who, along with his partner (an underused Billy Bob Thornton), has stolen roughly $2 million from mob boss Randy Quaid. The pair plans to skip town, but an ice storm in Wichita presents a number of unexpected difficulties as Cusack’s character navigates the seedier side of town consisting of strip bars.
The best scenes center on Cusack and an obnoxious drunk played by Oliver Platt, who stole Cusack’s wife and steals the movie in a performance in which comic vulgarity gives way to the ache of failure. For a bit, at least, these scenes offer a frustrating glimpse into what “The Ice Harvest” could have been had it taken an ice pick to the overly familiar trappings of its genre.
BY JAMIE PETERS
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