‘Ice Harvest’ has good acting, but recycled plot | TahoeDailyTribune.com

‘Ice Harvest’ has good acting, but recycled plot

Howie Nave

Charlie (John Cusack, right), an attorney for the sleazy businesses of Wichita, and his unsavory associate, the steely Vic Cavanaugh (Billy Bob Thornton), have just successfully embezzled $2 million in "The Ice Harvest."

Too much of a good thing wears thin when you’ve experienced the initial laugh before. When the surprise is taken away, it becomes just another routine that turns generic.

Director Harold Ramis (“Groundhog Day,” “Analyze This”) taps into familiar territory in the holiday-themed “Ice Harvest” this Thanksgiving weekend. But we have already seen this done in far better motion pictures. The plotline seems familiar. What saves the movie from the predictable, though, is the always-reliable John Cusack, who makes it OK to cheer for the lawyer character. Well, almost. Seeing him paired once again with Billy Bob Thornton (both were in “Pushing Tin” from 1999) just reinforces that they have this cool chemistry on screen. The actors are up to par even if the story falls short.

Cusack plays crooked lawyer Charlie Arglist, who teams up with unsavory associate Vic Cavanaugh (Thornton) to skim over $2 million in cash from the always-sleazy Randy Quaid, who is tailor-made as the mobster Bill Guerrard.

The setting is Wichita, Kansas, on a miserable Christmas Eve night that seems frozen in time. Adding to the never-ending evening is the weather, which is cold and soaked in moisture.

Can’t have a movie about deception without a hottie, and she comes in the form of stripper Renata (Connie Nielsen), who manages the Sweet Cage strip club and would make the perfect stocking stuffer for Charlie.

One of the film’s pleasant surprise highlights (yes, there were a few) turns out to be Oliver Platt. He’s one of those versatile actors who usually gets relegated to the quirky guy. Here he plays Charlie’s pal Pete Van Heuten, who, like his buddy, is dissatisfied with his career choice. Platt turns in a fun physical performance as the character who is too consumed with booze to be even remotely coherent. Let’s hope that future films show off the comedic style of Platt, but with more substance and screen time.

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When embezzling two million bucks, there’s bound to be paranoia among the parties involved. It just seems uncanny then that Charlie keeps running into the same clueless cop (T.J. Jagodowski) who misjudges Charlie’s actions as some quirk in his behavior. It’s a cute gag that keeps returning again and again.

Harold Ramis is one of our brightest writers (in addition to being a director), having written or co-written “Animal House,” “Ghostbusters” and “Caddyshack,” so I was expecting more here. It’s very obvious that the studio is pushing this holiday project as this year’s “Bad Santa,” but, like I said, already been there.

Ironically, Cusack’s character is a watered down version from his “Grosse Pointe Blank” film. Hmmmm … come to think of it, Thornton’s character here is reminiscent of “A Simple Plan,” so maybe the creative forces here were coming up with movies from the past that they liked, and by tossing those well-written scripts to the wall, the ones that stuck would be the nucleus for this movie. You know – sort of a “best of” formula from tried-and-true sources? Better to rent those other movies mentioned if you haven’t seen them already.

– Howie Nave is host/manager of The Improv comedy club inside Harveys and reviews films for seven radio stations throughout northern California and Nevada. He co-hosts the morning show on Tahoe’s KRLT radio and you can see his film reviews every Friday morning on KOLO ABC TV Channel 8 and weekends on KMTN television here in South Lake Tahoe.