The Ice Harvest
For the month of December, of course my focus is gonna be on films that float under the radar around Christmastime. We kick things off with 2005's 'The Ice Harvest', directed by Harold Ramis, and its probably one of his darker movies; although it maintains a sense of humor. Indeed, this is one of those movies where a lot of the humor lies in the darker aspects of it, like working for the mob and all that entails.
As the film opens, we're introduced to a couple of criminals; mob lawyer Charlie Arglist (John Cusack) and a pornographer businessman named Vic Cavanaugh (Billy Bob Thornton). They have stolen about $2 million from mobster Bill Guerrard (Randy Quaid), who also happens to be their boss, and are amped for an easy getaway. However, an icy rain comes along making the roads far too dangerous for driving. Vic takes the money for safekeeping, and they both try to evade capture and potential torture from Roy Gelles (Mike Starr), one of Guerrard's thugs, through this bitter Christmas Eve night. With Guerrard finding out their scheme, it seems to be only a matter of time.
The main backdrop of the movie is the Sweet Cage strip club, which Vic owns, run by Renata Crest (Connie Nielsen), the object of Charlie's affection. There's a whole "take the money and run" subplot going on with them, as she finds out about the money and essentially wants to get away from the lifestyle she's living. There's another subplot involving Charlie's friend, Pete (Oliver Platt), who happens to be married to Charlie's ex. Honestly though, it's hardly worth mentioning, as it's kind of crowbarred into the film. There is a reason for it, but by the end of it all it seems almost unnecessary. There's not a lot of charm to the Platt stuff, not so much because of Platt, but because his character is just perpetually drunk for laughs; he's the guy who doesn't know when to stop.
A lot of the stuff involving Charlie and whatever it is he wants to do with the money, is pretty good stuff though. There's not a whole lot of laugh out loud moments here, but it certainly got a few giggles. I generally really enjoy a good dark comedy, but this is one of those movies you have to be in the right mood for. A lot of it feels more serious than it probably should, and as a movie with a Christmas backdrop, it doesn't really use it a lot other than people humming Christmas carols the odd time. Not that a movie like this should feel "Christmassy", but it doesn't use enough elements from the holiday to consider it any sort of Christmas movie. I refer readers to 'Die Hard' which uses Christmas all throughout its action as a prime example of how to do it right.
The film is not, however, without a certain charm to it. It was interesting seeing Ramis take a darker look at things, and the weather sets the mood for the film almost perfectly. For those of us familiar with the idea, a winter rain is just awful. It's cold, wet, grey, slushy, slippery, and even dangerous under certain circumstances (like driving). It's the type of weather that has snow-haters saying "I wish this was snow". To be honest, I can't think of a lot of movies that use this type of weather for atmosphere, so points for originality. It's a good way to trap everyone in the same town and have to wait things out.
The performances here are pretty 50/50. I wasn't a fan of Platt's drunken schmoe character, and I didn't think there was a whole lot of personality to Renata other than being that "tease" type towards Charlie (in more ways than one). But I did enjoy Charlie, as this sort of awkward character who didn't fully know what he was doing, and Vic was just about as Billy Bob as Billy Bob can get, which is always great - imagine 'Bad Santa', just without all the alcohol. So, while the main cast and overall setting is enough to keep things entertaining, it's not entirely a must-see either. Not much sticks out, it's a touch forgettable, and I kind of get why it's a film located "under Santa's radar". Give it a shot if you have an hour and a half to kill, and your curiosity gets the better of you - just remember that it doesn't necessarily have to be seen around Christmastime either.
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