It’s that time of year once again. It’s time to empty your bank account on presents for your loved ones. It’s time to trim the tree and drink hot cocoa. And according to a new tradition started last year, it’s time to watch a Christmas movie that features Billy Bob Thornton acting crotchety. The Ice Harvest is indeed a spiritual sequel in many ways, but in other ways, it is a fine, diverting Midwestern twist on the film noir genre very much in the spirit of the Coen brothers’ masterpiece Fargo.
It is Christmas Eve in Wichita Kansas and sleazy mob lawyer Charlie Arglist (John Cusack, the most likable actor around) has just ripped off his boss for a cool two million dollars. Along with his even sleazier partner Vic (Thornton), they are set to make a break for warmer climates in the morning, but an ice storm, the arrival of a mob enforcer (Mike Starr), and various other complications keep them occupied through what quickly becomes the worst night of Charlie’s life.
The whole night unfolds in a breezy, unforced 88 minutes. The movie is helmed admirably by Harold Ramis (Egon of Ghostbusters fame). Ramis typically directs lighter fare like Groundhog Day, but here he shows a deft hand at balancing the important elements of a comedic film noir.
The screenplay was adapted from a novel by Scott Phillips, and at first glance, it seems problematic. There are lots of long asides in this movie that don’t necessarily lead anywhere, but after some thought, these actually work quite well. They give us a chance to see more of the characters in their natural environment, and because of that we grow closer to the characters and the story.
Ramis was also lucky enough to get a top-notch cast together. Thornton plays the role he plays in every movie, but he does it so darn good. Cusack manages to make his character, who is morally questionable at best, likeable, because that’s just what John Cusack does. Oliver Platt has a blast in his role as Cusack’s drunken best friend. Gladiator’s Connie Nielsen has a small, underutilized part as the obligatory femme fatale, and Randy Quaid (resembling a cross between Marlon Brando and a beached whale) hams it up for a few glorious minutes as the mob boss.
This movie is nothing more than a lot of fun. It’s not exactly a spirited Christmas movie and nothing about it is spectacular. The mystery part of the plot probably throws in a few too many red herrings for its own good. But it’s an energetic 90 minutes at the movies, and if you’re getting tired of seeing the obligatory December Oscar candidates, this could be just the gift for you.
Chuck DelRoss can be reached at email@example.com.