The Ice Harvest
Directed by Harold Ramis

Written by Richard Russo and Robert Benton from the novel by Scott Phillips

Starring John Cusack, Billy Bob Thornton, Connie Nielsen


The Ice Harvest

Part neo-noir, part witty comment on neo-noir, and part just plain physical comedy, "The Ice Harvest" is an unexpected pleasure for those of us who revel in black wit, and the blacker the better. This is a film for people who loved "Igby Goes Down," and if you didn't love that film you can stop reading right now.

"The Ice Harvest" is the story of a night in Wichita, Kansas, Christmas Eve as it happens; a night with an ice storm slicking the city's streets; a long night, a dark night of the soul in fact, in which Charlie, a mob lawyer (John Cusack) who's been skimming from his boss Bill (Randy Quaid), in partnership with Bill's other underling Vic (Billy Bob Thornton), who runs the porno end of the business for Bill, have decided to skip town, and Bill, with their foolproof plan to get away with the $2 million they've stolen from him.

Somehow we never quite get to the plan, but no matter; neither does Charlie. What matters is what happens as we follow Charlie as he tries to follow the plan, which takes him to an unfortunate encounter with his ex-wife, now married to his alcoholic friend Pete (Oliver Platt), and then to a series of mob bars, including one run by the stunning Renata (Connie Nielsen), in blonde tresses that might have been imported from any Republic noir film of the 1940s and now sweep down one side of that beautiful face. There's a compromising photo of Renata which somehow impels Charlie to sneak back into Bill's office to steal it, which in turn leads to - well, let's just say that no good deed goes unpunished.

And we've hardly begun; the freezing rain comes down harder as Charlie and Vic try to stay on task, but circumstances, now in the form of huge Roy, Bill's enforcer, keep conspiring against them. There are some nice sight gags, one of which you saw in the trailer, as Roy tries to shoot his way out of a metal trunk, which leads to some nasty work at the edge of a lake. Meanwhile, comic lines are thrown away like confetti in a breeze; you have to listen hard to get them because they're gone in a second.

"The Ice Harvest" comes with an excellent pedigree: From the neo-noir novel by Scott Phillips, the screenplay was written by Richard Russo ("Empire Falls," "Nobody's Fool") and Robert Benton ("Bonnie and Clyde," "Superman," "Kramer vs. Kramer") and directed by Harold Ramis ("Ghost Busters," "Groundhog Day," "Analyze This"). But for all the black wit in "The Ice Harvest," the film is not always successful. In a rare mistake for a movie's writers and director, particularly those as experienced as we have here, the film, at 88 minutes, is actually too short by at least fifteen minutes. It needs to breathe, to give us a little more time to understand the crosses and double crosses, to set up the gags and build a bit of back story.

Nevertheless, "The Ice Harvest" is a film that will deservedly gather a cult following, and friends will trade scenes and moments with each other for years to come. I plan to buy the DVD and mark my favorite spots, screening it for friends even if I have to hold them down.