The Night Before Christmas
Charlie (John Cusack) and Vic (Billy Bob Thornton) spend Christmas Eve taking in strip shows and concealing a crime in
Thursday, November 24, 2005
The Ice Harvest is a poor man’s cross between the
Cohen brothers’ Blood Simple and Fargo, with a
sprinkle of atmosphere copped from The Ice Storm, albeit at
Christmastime. It’s an anti-Christmas black comedy for every
card-carrying Grinch. Set in the wicked cold temperatures of a
Wichita Falls Christmas Eve, the movie kicks off with a barely
glimpsed successful heist of $2,147,000 in cash by an unlikely
duo of incompetent thieves played by John Cusack and Billy Bob
Thornton. Thornton’s laid back pornographer character Vic
advises crooked mob lawyer Charlie (Cusack) to act “normal”
while he keeps their loot safe until the next morning, by
which time the overnight freezing rain will have sufficiently
thawed for them to escape on a morning flight to an
undisclosed tropical locale.
THE ICE HARVEST ( * * * )Directed by Harold Ramis.
Starring John Cusack, Billy Bob Thornton and Connie Nielsen.
(R, 88 min.) At the Osio Cinemas, Northridge Cinemas and Maya Cinemas.
Charlie predictably falls prey to his own insecurities and telegraphs his guilt to everyone he encounters as he bounces between strip clubs. John Cusack heats up his character’s vulnerability to a carbuncle over his misguided affection for a wily stripper named Renata (Connie Nielsen of The Hunted). When he isn’t making plans for Renata to run away with him, Charlie does some holiday family visiting with his alcoholic best friend Pete (comically played by Oliver Platt), who has done Charlie the favor of marrying Charlie’s ice queen ex-wife.
One particularly funny gag has Charlie assisting Pete in recovering a testicle kicked into Pete’s “body cavity” by the boyfriend of a female bartender that Pete verbally insulted in his inebriated state. Oliver Platt steals the movie with his take-no-prisoners comic approach to pratfalls and colorful verbal ramblings. Platt performs a seemingly impossible task of making you like him in spite of his horribly offensive behavior.
Director Harold Ramis (Caddyshack) doesn’t provoke enough variety in tempo to make the script’s pitch black punch lines pay off as much as they should. The movie also suffers from some miscasting of secondary characters that hinders the comedy just when it should ping off of the screen.
A recurring subplot has an incompetent Wichita policeman (T.J. Jagodowski) repeatedly catching Charlie at inopportune moments, before letting him off the hook so that Charlie will put in a good word for him with the local mob boss. Jagodowski is too lax to milk the pregnant scenes for their comic potential and you can’t help wonder about the list of comic actors who could have done so much more with the role.
Nonetheless, an ice water and firearm climax provides an appropriately excessive finale as the femme fatale Renata adds just the right amount of erotic tension to dreams that have gone very wrong. A liberal sprinkling of nudity throughout the movie gives it a suitably sleazy atmosphere for its cast of miserable characters. Sure it’s a flawed premise that two desperate thieves would wait to leave town after a robbery just because the streets are frozen, but somebody’s got to visit Wichita strip clubs on Christmas Eve.