Billy Bob Thornton is back in another dark Christmas comedy, and John Cusack is finally in a movie that doesn't involve dogs or a fluffy romantic story. "The Ice Harvest" is a fun little movie that capitalizes on the odd little things that pop up around Christmas, like drunk friends, the mob, stolen money, untrustworthy partners, dangerous women and a few murders.
Cusack stars as Charlie Arglist, a mob lawyer in Wichita, Kansas, who on Christmas Eve decides it will be a good idea to steal $2 million from his boss and flee town. The movie starts off with him saying that there is indeed such a thing as the perfect plan as long as you think out every detail and remain calm and confident. Unfortunately for him, Charlie is a bumbling wussy and almost immediately starts regretting what he has done, even though his partner Vic (Billy Bob) assures him everything will be okay. But when an icy rain sweeps through the city, Charlie finds himself stranded in Wichita with a hit man on his tail, a woman after his heart and a mob boss (Randy Quaid) who is anything but pleased about how he has to spend the night before Christmas.
"The Ice Harvest" isn't for everyone. After all, it is about stealing on Christmas, about murdering on Christmas, about betraying on Christmas, and making fun of such things. Some people may not find murder all that funny, but some, like me, can, as long as it is presented in the right way. Director Harold Ramis delivers such a to-the-point, subtle approach to everything that it is hard not to laugh when Billy Bob is carelessly trying to shove his dead wife's body into a car, or when he's beating a trunk filled with a still-alive hit man with a golf club, or... yeah.
The movie isn't hilarious, but it is funny, and it's funny enough to entertain for the very short hour and a half running time. The movie succeeds not because it is consistently laugh-out-loud funny - which it isn't - or that it has a completely original plot - which it doesn't - but that it balances both humor and plot well. The movie is funny but rarely immensely so, and the plot is good without ever becoming so complicated that it takes away from the humor. In fact, it is much like one of the many crime comedies the Coen Brothers have pulled out - smart, with a decent plot, and willing to make jokes at the same time.
Both Cusack and Thornton are great in the leads. Neither are doing anything new, but it is fun to see them in their element. Thornton plays that nasty, emotionless Christmas caroler oh so well, and Cusack is good at whatever he does. The real treat, however, is Oliver Platt, who managed to find the perfect role as a character who is drunk the entire movie. Platt is absolutely hilarious, and a scene-stealer from beginning to end. He alone makes the movie worth it.
Ultimately, "The Ice Harvest" is a fun, harmless film that neither screams of Christmas spirit nor ever blows you away, but maybe that's why I liked it - it is what it is and never tries to be anything more.
"The Ice Harvest" comes to DVD February 28th, and while it isn't packed with special features, it has enough to fulfill expectations. The DVD features two alternate scenes (so miniscule in differences you'll hardly notice), an anatomy of a scene featurette and an interview with the author of the book and the screenwriter of the film, which discuss differences between the book and movie, etc. Another highlight is an outtake where Billy Bob impersonates his "Sling Blade" character with Cusack. All in all, it's a good DVD, albeit without any exciting special features.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.
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