Some weekends, after watching two or three mediocre or just plain bad films, I often wonder if it wouldn't be better to just completely eradicate the whole movie industry, regress a hundred years and have live plays as our main form of entertainment. At least when watching a live play, the audience has the ability to throw tomatoes and rotten fruit at the performers if they are doing a bad job. "The Ice Harvest" is a film so monumentally wrong, that it makes me wish I could throw rotten tomatoes at John Cusack, Billy Bob Thornton, Oliver Platt, Randy Quaid, the director Harold Ramis, and everyone else involved in this piece of cra*.
On Christmas Eve, Charlie Arglist (John Cusack), a lawyer for the Kansas mob, walks into a bank in Witchita Falls and takes $2 million of the mob boss' (Randy Quaid) money. His partner in crime, Vic Cavanaugh (Billy Bob Thornton), a local smut peddler, decides to safeguard the money, raising Charlie's suspicions. Their plan is to wait out the ice storm, drive to Kansas City the next morning, and catch a plane to "somewhere warm". Charlie is interested in Renata (Connie Nielsen), the manager of a local strip bar. Renata wants a picture of a City Councilman having sex with one of her strippers, to blackmail him and Charlie knows where the photo is. He figures it would be a great present to her, and help him get into her pants. The mixture of greed, suspicion and weather lead the evening to go horribly wrong.
Almost as wrong as the film. But not quite.
"The Ice Harvest" is advertised as a dark, black comedy. Fine. I love this genre of films. Some ads have compared it to "Bad Santa", the very underrated hilarious film also starring Billy Bob Thornton. Bologna! "The Ice Harvest", directed by Harold Ramis and written by Richard Russo and Robert Benton (an amazing pedigree for such a terrible film), desperately wants to be a cross between "Fargo" and "Blood Simple". Imagine if you took elements from both of those great films and drained any trace of an inkling of humor out of the work, the result would be "Harvest".
"Harvest" might actually work as a straight Noir-ish look at two desperate guys who botch a job. It certainly has all of the elements; a bag of cash, a femme fatale, violence, people with guns and knives, desperation, a double cross, etc. But Ramis is clearly trying to make a dark comedy. And nothing about or in the film is funny. I was sorely tempted to walk out, a few times, but kept hoping that something interesting would happen. My hopes were not met.
John Cusack is usually a very dependable actor. He has, in the past, picked projects that played to his strengths, allowing him to create memorable characters, in fun, quirky films. Unfortunately, that ability seems to have been lost. With "Must Love Dogs" and "The Ice Harvest", Cusack is going through a rough patch that will hopefully end soon. "Harvest" makes "Must Love Dogs" look like a good film and that says a lot. Throughout "Harvest", Cusack's character seems poised to do something funny, or interesting, or unusual. But something always draws him back from this precipice. In one scene, he enters an exclusive restaurant and is asked by the Maitre D' to assist with Pete, played by Oliver Platt. Pete has become drunk in the restaurant bar and loudly proclaims that Charlie is a mob lawyer as soon as he enters. Yet, Cusack merely shakes his head, trying to withdraw from the attention of the crowd. Charlie also keeps running into the same cop, a cop who knows Charlie works for the mob and wants him to "put in a good word". Yet, Charlie can't remember his name. Yawn. I know. Pretty feeble.
This isn't really a buddy picture between Cusack and Thornton. They share a couple of scenes, but Thornton disappears fairly early in the film. Not that this is a bad thing. Thornton seems to be simply reading his lines. He doesn't get angry, upset, anything throughout. A lackluster performance.
Oliver Platt, on the other hand, hams it up as the drunk Pete. He makes crass comments to female bartenders, he yells curse words when interrupting his wife's Christmas Eve dinner with her parents, and just acts silly throughout. If his performance had been toned down, and spread evenly among the three leads, "Harvest" might actually have had a laugh or two. Instead, his performance is simply over the top and seems to belong in another film.
Randy Quaid makes a brief appearance as the menacing mob boss. His performance is actually pretty good, he seems menacing, scary and violent. It is about the only thing that works. But if "Harvest" had been a successful dark comedy, this one goods thing would probably be out of place and it wouldn't work either.
All of these problems land at the feet of director Harold Ramis. Ramis has directed and starred in some very funny films including "Groundhog Day" and "Ghostbusters". But he is clearly off the mark with this project. No one seems to realize they are working on a comedy, including the director. Everything is handled with such gravitas, that a joke or two would seem out of place. Everything is also filmed in a very flat manner. Nothing seems to interest anyone or anything, let alone the director. He lets the camera sit, static, watching the action. No pans, dissolves, nothing. He simply seems bored and the boredom translates to everyone and everything, including the actors.
And especially the audience.