The Ice Harvest Review
By Joe Lozito
I think something bad might have happened to Harold Ramis. The lovable second banana of "Ghostbusters" and "Stripes" as well as the director of such classic comedies as "Caddyshack" and "Groundhog Day" has taken a decidedly dark turn. Not that that's necessarily a bad thing. But Mr. Ramis' film "The Ice Harvest
" is a little too dark for its own good. It's such a black comedy that to call it noir might be an understatement, though the noir elements are definitely in place - the heist, the double-cross, the gangster, the femme fatale. But "Harvest" wants to be so black that it ends up only being bleak.
The script by Richard Russo and Robert Benton, based on the novel by Scott Phillips, takes place entirely on one freezing, ice-covered Christmas Eve night in Wichita Falls, Kansas. When the film opens, mob lawyer Charlie Arglist (John Cusak, managing to be both jowly and boyish at the same time) and his pal Vic (Billy Bob Thornton) have stolen two million dollars from Charlie's boss, the notorious gangster Bill Guerrard (Randy Quaid happily hamming it up). The majority of the film is spent following Charlie as his goes from strip club to strip club essentially killing time until the weather passes and he and Vic can leave town. As you might have guessed, nothing goes as planned. Along the way, Charlie happens upon his buddy Pete (comic relief Oliver Platt, the film's one bright spot) and winds up toting him around while pining for a strip club owner (Connie Nielsen) with whom he's smitten.
Now, there are certainly a lot of Elmore Leonard-esque possibilities to be mined with these characters, but "Harvest" is so dead set against having any fun that it skids from scene to scene solely on the likeability of its stars. Mr. Cusack is lucky he's such an affable presence or Charlie would be too much of a loser to care about. Ms. Nielsen is just slightly miscast as the aforementioned femme fatale, bringing style but no substance to the role. Only Mr. Platt's drunken shenanigans lend the film its only funny moments.
Mr. Thornton has played dispirited lowlifes before, specifically in the far-superior "Bad Santa", another black Christmas comedy to which "Harvest" clearly aspires. His role in "Harvest" is beyond lived in; it's not a gag anymore, it's just becoming mean. And that's the problem with "Ice Harvest" in a nutshell. Mean-spirited comedy and black comedy are not the same thing. For starters, only one of them's funny. As a black comedy, "Harvest" is on thin ice.