Blu-ray and DVD Reviews

The Ice Harvest

Reviewed by: Edward Douglas and Scott Chitwood
Movie Rating:
3 out of 10
Extras Rating:
7 out of 10
Movie Details:
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Rating: R

Starring:
John Cusack as Charlie Arglist
Billy Bob Thornton as Vic Cavanaugh
Connie Nielsen as Renata
Lara Phillips as Rusti
Bill Noble as Culligan
Randy Quaid as Bill Guerrard
Oliver Platt as Pete Van Heuten
Brad Smith as Ronny
Ned Bellamy as Sidney
Mike Starr as Roy
T.J. Jagodowski as Officer Tyler
Meghan Maureen McDonough as Francie
Tab Baker as Dennis
Frank Gallo as Restauranteur
William Dick as Manager

Special Features:
Alternate Ending #1 (Rough Edit and Visual Effects)

Alternate Ending #2 (Rough Edit and Visual Effects)

Outtake with Billy Bob Thornton

Cracking the Story

Beneath the Harvest

Ice Cracking: Anatomy of a Scene

Feature Commentary with Director Harold Ramis

Other Info:
Widescreen (1.85:1)
Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound
French Language
Spanish and French Subtitles
Running Time: 1 Hour 29 Minutes

Synopsis:
The following is from the DVD cover:

"John Cusack and Billy Bob Thornton lead an all-star cast in this hilarious and unpredictable thriller that critics are calling, "very funny stuff" (Richard Roeper, Ebert & Roeper).

When lawyer Charlie (Cusack) and his partner Vic (Thornton) steal from a mob boss, they think they've pulled off the perfect crime. But when they race through a night filled with mayhem, lust and lethal surprises, they realize that the biggest risk they'll take will be trusting each other.

From the director of Analyze This and Groundhog Day, The Ice Harvest cracks with outrageous laughs and slippery twists that will keep you guessing until the very end!"

The Ice Harvest is rated R for violence, language and sexuality/nudity.

The Movie:
If you think that a noir crime drama in the vein of Elmore Leonard meets the Coen Brothers by the director of "Caddyshack" would seem like just the right alternative to the holiday blahs, then "The Ice Harvest" probably sounds as good on paper as it did to whomever financed it. Then again, if you're looking for a comedy that actually offers laughs, you might want to look elsewhere.

Who knows what went wrong with this attempt to play with noir archetypes? Obviously, the Coen Brothers have done it so well so many times and Harold Ramis' cast is just as strong as any of them, but "The Ice Harvest" is comprised mainly of things we've seen before combined with things that just don't work.

Good luck following the set-up, which expects you to automatically know what's going on when John Cusack's character, Charlie, steals over $2 million from his mob boss employer. Cusack then spends the rest of the movie running around town, bumping into wacky characters, introduced just as carelessly, so you never know who they are or what relationship they have to Charlie or the money. Some of these encounters are amusing, but very few of them do anything to move the story forward or keep you interested. Eventually, people start turning up dead, and Charlie spends the rest of the movie caught up in Vic's attempt to get rid of anyone who might stand in the way of him getting out of town with the money. Of course, the story includes all of the betrayals and double-dealings you might expect from this type of movie.

The premise just isn't very original and the script isn't much better. For a comedy, there just aren't many laughs, at least none in the script, and usually, it resorts to pratfalls and the bumbling of the characters to try to get laughs. On a whole, the movie is a grim and dreary offering that gets worse and worse as it goes along, digging itself deeper into a bottomless pit of bad writing. It's bad enough that there's nothing about the characters that makes you care what happens to them one way or another, but the production values aren't that great and the whole thing just looks gray. Obviously, the latter part was an artistic choice in terms of cinematography, but it just makes the whole thing look as ugly as it feels.

John Cusack isn't breaking any new ground as Charlie, and Billy Bob Thornton is playing the same character he did in "Bad Santa" without the raunchy lines that made that dark holiday comedy so funny. As Charlie's love interest, Connie Nielsen essentially channels every '50s screen actress that has ever appeared in a noir film. Clearly, the movie's best moments come from Oliver Platt as Charlie's obnoxious and perpetually drunk best friend, who just so happens to be married to his ex-wife. Platt steals every scene as this character that says whatever is on his mind, getting him and Charlie into trouble. Platt might have saved the movie if he was more than a bit player who shows up, gets laughs, and then disappears until the very end.

The Extras:
There's a decent selection of bonus features with this DVD. Here's what you'll find:

Alternate Ending #1 (Rough Edit and Visual Effects) – In this alternate ending, John Cusack's character dies at the end rather than going though his "feel good ending" fate. You see him in a bloody mess by the side of the road, then his spirit or whatever is seen walking through a field and disappearing. It's not terribly entertaining but it probably fits the mood of the story better.

Alternate Ending #2 (Rough Edit and Visual Effects) – This is exactly the same as the first ending, but as Cusack is dying we see a flashback where Cusack, Nielsen, and Thornton's characters first discuss stealing the money from the mobster. It's an interesting scene but it breaks up the pacing of the end of the film.

Outtake with Billy Bob Thornton – In this outtake Thornton plays a scene with Cusack as Karl from Sling Blade. It's funny and seems to have become a staple of bonus features from Thornton's films.

Cracking the Story – In this featurette the screenwriters and Ice Harvest author Scott Phillips discuss the adaptation of the novel. They talk about Phillip's history of hanging out in strip bars, the real life inspirations for parts of the novel, and other things. If you liked the book you'll enjoy this.

Beneath the Harvest – This is your standard "making of" featurette with interviews with the cast and crew, behind the scenes footage, and other goodness.

Ice Cracking: Anatomy of a Scene – This featurette shows how they did a scene in the film where the characters break through a frozen lake. They discuss the technical aspects of the stunt, Thornton's fear of water, and other challenges of shooting the scene.

Feature Commentary with Director Harold Ramis – Ramis delivers a funny and informative commentary. It's actually better to watch the film with him discussing it than without him.

The Bottom Line:
Those expecting big laughs from Harold Ramis' latest are going to be disappointed by the fact that "The Ice Harvest" is actually a dark crime drama with almost nothing funny about it. It's depressing that a cast this talented, working with a skilled director like Ramis, could make such a bad tribute to crime noir, which pales in comparison to Shane Black's "Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang."

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