Ramis undershoots in Harvest

Billy Bob Thornton and John Cusack star in Harold Ramis’ new film The Ice Harvest.
Billy Bob Thornton and John Cusack star in Harold Ramis’ new film The Ice Harvest.
Credit: 
Photo courtesy ofstartribune.com
Underrated actor Oliver Platt plays a hilarious drunk in The Ice Harvest.
Underrated actor Oliver Platt plays a hilarious drunk in The Ice Harvest.
Credit: 
Photo courtesy of adorocinema.cidadeinternet.com.br

Film Review: The Ice Harvest @ Capitol 7

The Ice Harvest is, at its core, a modern film noir. It has a twisted, convoluted plot filled with shady characters, greed, betrayal and murder. It also happens to be set at Christmas and is directed by Harold Ramis, one of the most successful comedic filmmakers of his generation.

The movie is a mixture of genres. It is at once a “knowing” comedy and a dark crime drama that—-truth be told—is a bit of a mess. Mixing noir and comedy is difficult, but not impossible (think Blood Simple and Pulp Fiction, both being two successful examples of the fusion). Unfortunately, as a director, Ramis is not up to the task. The tone is uneven, the pace is too slow and the visuals are flat. However, the film is well cast and Ramis’ skill at handling actors is apparent. There are several hysterical sequences as well, but far too few to carry the movie. The Ice Harvest is not necessarily a bad movie, but it is definitely a failed one.

John Cusack stars as Charlie Arglist, a mob lawyer who steals $2 million from his boss, along with partner in crime Vic, played by Billy Bob Thornton. While trying to tie up all the loose ends with his family and friends before leaving town, Charlie learns that his boss may know that the money is missing. Add to this a drunk who will not leave him alone (Oliver Platt) and a severe ice storm that has turned the entire city into a hockey rink, and you have the makings of a very stressful Christmas Eve for Charlie. Cusack excels as the befuddled protagonist, while Thornton uses every moment of screen time to his advantage alternating between sarcastic comic relief and a suspicious murder suspect. Cusack and Thornton are two of the most dependable actors working today, and they have no trouble bringing the rather tired screenplay to life. The same can be said for Platt, one of the most underrated comedic actors in Hollywood. He may never receive any leading roles, but he is always able to steal the few scenes he gets. Platt’s character is drunk for the duration of the film, but he manages to get consistent laughs from the audience without relying too heavily on clichéd drunken shtick. The only misstep in casting is Connie Nielsen. Her wooden performance is clearly modeled on the classic femme fatale actress, and the only problem is that this style of acting is both unrealistic and dated. Had the film been released in the 1940s, Nielsen’s performance would have been fine, but by modern standards it is stilted and embarrassing.

Still, Nielsen’s work is not too distracting, and overall the acting in the film is quite good. This should not come as a surprise for anyone familiar with the work of Harold Ramis. Be it Chevy Chase or Robert DeNiro, Ramis is always able to get the best out of his actors. It is one of his talents as a director. One of his weaknesses is his minimal visual style. In comedies such as Groundhog Day or Caddyshack, that’s not a problem, but camera work is an important aspect of film noir. As a result, Ramis is unable to create much suspense in The Ice Harvest, so when the movie degenerates into a bloodbath in the second act, it has little impact on the audience.

What is far more of a problem is the fact the Ramis clearly had nothing to do with the screenplay. Ramis is a skilled comic screenwriter, having scripted such modern classics as Animal House and Ghostbusters. The Ice Harvest has great comedic potential, but the thrust of the screenplay is dramatic. Had Ramis played to his strengths and rewritten the script so that it was more of a comedy and less of a straight thriller, he may have made a more successfully executed movie.

It is important to note that The Ice Harvest is not a completely lost cause—Ramis is simply trying to do too much with the movie. At only 88 minutes long, the film rushes through its complex plot, sacrificing character development and clarity in the process. Too many subplots and characters are introduced, but not fully explored. For one thing, the Christmas setting is introduced early on, but is seemingly forgotten by the last act. The movie may be marketed as a dark, anti-Christmas comedy in the vein of Bad Santa, but this element is little more than window dressing. Aside from a scene where Platt brings Cusack to his house for Christmas dinner, the holiday is barely mentioned.

With a more suitable director and a focused screenplay, The Ice Harvest could have been a great little genre picture. Unfortunately, it ends up being a limp thriller with strong performances and occasional bursts of hilarity. It’s entertaining, but maybe not worth braving a cold trip to the theatre to see.

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