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Overall Rating

Awesome: 23.19%
Worth A Look44.93%
Average: 17.39%
Pretty Bad: 5.8%
Total Crap: 8.7%

8 reviews, 21 user ratings

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Ice Harvest, The
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by Erik Childress

"Deck The Halls And Kill Everyone Else"
4 stars

Don’t you just love movies that get you in, entertain and then get you out in a reduced amount of time? It’s liberating in a sense. So often I hear the argument that audience members just want to be entertained which can be decoded as “the movie was just so-so, but I don’t care – don’t be such a critic.” While those people are satisfied with their $9 plus concessions purchase, I can usually pinpoint the additional 20 or 100 minutes that made it less than satisfactory. One of the great pleasures of going to the movies is the element of surprise. Sometimes delegated from lowered expectations or occasionally exceeding even the most enthusiastic of anticipation, movies surprise in all kinds of ways. Take The Ice Harvest, a film whose ad campaign suggests an entry into the canon of Francis Veber with a montage of every physical gag put on film. Instead, we get a tight, slickly plotted and serious little noir from the last director we might expect – Harold Ramis.

Charlie Arglist (John Cusack) is a mob lawyer who has just embezzled $2.1 million from boss Bill Guerrard (Randy Quaid). Charlie’s partner-in-crime, well-respected strip-club profiteer Vic (Billy Bob Thornton) didn’t have to do more than drive him to the bank and out walks the cash. Now, all they have to do is act normal, get through the night and its beaches and umbrellas in their drinks. Charlie is a bundle of nerves however, overplaying his cards with bouts of unexpected kindness and worried about the strongman (Mike Starr) looking for them all over town. Charlie also carries a torch for Renata (Connie Nielsen, in one of her best performances) the sexy strip club owner who acts like she learned all her motions and vocal patterns from the tempered noir dames of the 40s & 50s.

If you’re preparing yourself for ensuing wackiness, you will still be more pleasantly surprised that its tone shifts towards a darker brand of humor than shtick out of a Home Alone flick. When we are first introduced to Pete Van Heuten (Oliver Platt), he’s little more than the drunken baffoon currently married to Charlie’s ex. But the movie takes a time-out from the crime plot and follows these two men around until we find a deeper understanding of what has brought them to take the actions they have decided to take on Christmas Eve of all days. These scenes, especially one at Pete’s residence, will invite comparisons to maybe the best of the subversive Xmas comedies (The Ref) and they are of the favorable sort that Bad Santa botched so terribly just a few years ago.

Ramis does some of his best work in the director’s chair balancing the immoral tone of the plot with biting humor that rises from the situations and not just placed in as obvious tension relievers. With a trifecta of actors who have previous tried to get away with boatloads of cash; Cusack (Money for Nothing), Thornton (A Simple Plan) and Quaid (Quick Change – and, if you insist, Hard Rain), in no way does Ramis mock the material or try to satirize the noir tradition. There’s clear respect for the motion of the developments and the screenplay by Richard Russo & Robert Benton (from Scott Phillips’ novel) doesn’t overdo the twists. We know doublecrosses are inevitable, but they don’t stretch to the ridiculous where we begin to detach from the characters. There are disingenuous intentions abound from everyone, but the evil they commit is consistent with human nature rather than just another simplistic way to shock an audience.

The closest we get to noir these days are the works of Elmore Leonard and his works have a self-aware quality that finds more absurdity in its violence than tragedy. Granted, this is closer to the works of the better Elmore (Out of Sight, Jackie Brown) and is very funny (both Cusack and Thornton are experts at dry comedy), but Ramis often stays away from the yucks in favor of the danger that Charlie quickly becomes aware he’s in. The Ice Harvest could have easily fallen into a level of bad crime comedies like Lucky Numbers or The Whole Ten Yards but everyone involved kept the plot from getting away from them and results in a terrific package that doesn’t embarrass anyone who says they walked away entertained by it. Very entertained, indeed.

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originally posted: 11/23/05 16:20:13
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2005 Austin Film Festival For more in the 2005 Austin Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

12/25/17 JD Daynes The perfect Christmas film for anyone who's not feeling Christmas. I love it! 5 stars
2/25/14 Uowxoxqj Hemsley is one of the back of a binary options strategy coincidence to overlook., <a href=" 2 stars
12/20/13 Ken Markson Great film! It's poor showing must be the result of advertizing a comedy - which it's not! 5 stars
9/13/11 Tim Darkly funny and richly involving - too bad it didn't get better reception when released. 4 stars
12/04/08 Shaun Wallner Great Cast!! 4 stars
5/14/08 Matt Even the excellent Billy Bob can't stop this from being soooooo forgettable. 2 stars
5/09/07 David Pollastrini not great, not terrible 3 stars
3/30/07 fools&#9835;gold If you're too careful, you won't laugh, and you'll be bored, and that's why it's great. 4 stars
1/28/07 mets1986 Very underrated..Oliver Platt is fantastic 5 stars
10/18/06 AJ Muller well-done flick, dark laughs, great turns by primo cast 4 stars
7/05/06 Phil M. Aficionado Feel I should like it more because of the actors, but it suffers from genre confusion 3 stars
3/07/06 Monday Morning VERY disappointing work from H.Ramis. Wasn't good comedy, black or otherwise. 2 stars
12/02/05 The Don Johnson 60 minutes suck, 30 minutes are hilarious. Drunken Oliver Platt is extremely funny. 3 stars
11/29/05 soldi its ok but not so good not worth going to it in cinema just rent it when it comes out 3 stars
11/28/05 KingNeutron Lots of good dialogue, and a couple of shockers. 4 stars
11/28/05 Elizabeth S It's bleak, violent and filled with lowlifes . . .but I liked it! 3 stars
11/26/05 khalid30 ok 3 stars
11/25/05 Idiot_for_LMP Cusack as always stellar performance! Go See! 4 stars
11/25/05 baseball-nut I'd suggest John Cusack stick with the serious stuff, he's not a very good comedian! 2 stars
11/07/05 mahgoney ubelivably great 5 stars
10/24/05 Drew Ebanks 'Written by' category should include the novelist Scott Phillips 4 stars
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  23-Nov-2005 (R)
  DVD: 28-Feb-2006

  03-Feb-2006 (15)


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