Publicity Stills of "The Ice Harvest"
(Courtesy from Shaw)

Genre: Comedy
Director: Harold Ramis
Starring: John Cusack, Billy Bob Thornton, Connie Nielsen, Randy Quaid, Oliver Platt
RunTime: 1 hr 32 mins
Released By: Shaw
Rating: PG

Opening Day: 22 December 2005

Synopsis :

It's Christmas Eve in rainy, icebound Wichita, Kansas, and this year Charlie Arglist (John Cusack) just might have something to celebrate. Charlie, an attorney for the sleazy businesses of Wichita, and his unsavory associate, the steely Vic Cavenaugh (Billy Bob Thornton), have just successfully embezzled $2,147,000 from Kansas City boss Bill Guerrard (Randy Quaid).

Even so, the real prize for Charlie would be the stunning Renata (Connie Nielsen), who runs the Sweet Cage strip club. Charlie's fondest Christmas wish is to slip out of town with Renata. But, as daylight fades and a storm whirls, everyone from Charlie's drinking buddy Pete Van Heuten (Oliver Platt) to the local police begin to wonder just what exactly is in Charlie's Christmas stocking. For Charlie, the 12 hours of Christmas Eve are filled with nonstop twists and turns, both on the ice and off.

Movie Review:

Christmas season is upon us, with good tidings and a time of goodwill toward all of mankind. However for Charlie Arglist (John Cusack) and his associate Vic Cavanaugh (Billy Bob Thornton), it's profiteering from embezzlement that brings them together.

Helmed by Harold Ramis, whose easily recognizable credits include the Ghostbusters franchise, this tale tells about the honour amongst thieves, or the lack thereof, and Charlie's deteriorating, disillusioned attitude towards life. All these set in less than 24 hours. As a lawyer for the mob in Wichita, Kansas, Charlie successfully steals 2 million dollars from his mob boss Bill Guerrad (Randy Quaid). Problem is, Vic's the one keeping the money, and constantly teases Charlie as to the whereabouts of their stash.

In Cusack's and Thornton's third outing together (the first two being Floundering in 1994, and Pushing Tin in 1999), the good chemistry and natural bantering between the two leads clearly show, but their scenes with each other weren't given as much screen time as they should be. In fact, this becomes more like Cusack's show, being the main lead, shouldering the movie through from start to end with his understated performance as the everyday man.

Mixed into the male machismo is Connie Nielsen, who plays a strip club owner called Renata, the object of Charlie's affections. Or is it lust? Until Charlie finds the money, his dream of eloping with Renata will have to be put on hold, even though Renata expressed disinterest for the cash, and relishes romance instead. It's interesting to note that for the scenes with the gangster moll, the camera always seemed to be in soft-focus, with the deliberate utility of light and shadows to illuminate her, as if to prompt the audience into the depth of her character, that it is more than meets the eye.

I felt that Oliver Platt was under utilized in a role which seemed one-dimensional, in for the laughs and as an instrument to further the plot with his drunken conversations with Cusack's character, which is a pity. In fact, many of the lesser characters are cardboard like, and therefore, sadly expendable.

Despite the black humour and wicked lines of dialogue peppered throughout the movie, it still felt like it's running on empty with its various subplots packed into a relatively short 80-odd minutes. Some moments, like the running graffiti theme "As Wichita falls, so falls Winchita Falls", might be lost in local audiences not attuned to the geography of the States.

But for a different Christmas movie this holiday season, besides adventures like Chronicles of Narnia and France's dramatic Joyeux Noel, you might want to consider an out of the norm offering in this caper.

Movie Rating:

( An average movie brought to life by John Cusack's usual wonderful performance in a quirky and unusual tale set in Christmas)

Review by Stefan Shih

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