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Thin Ice is about an asshole who gets into deep trouble with another asshole because of their collective assholery. Sound fun? It’s torture. In addition to the oily, cheap, thoroughly unlikable main character, an insurance salesman named Mickey (Greg Kinnear), there’s the nagging fact that the film, directed by Jill Sprecher (Thirteen Conversations About One Thing) and co-written with her sister Karen, is a blatant Fargo rip-off, set during a Wisconsin winter and centered on a desperate man with money problems. The only things differentiating Thin Ice from the Coen brothers’ gruesome gem? A lack of Midwestern accents and entertainment value.
Mickey is illogically drawn as an award-winning salesman and convention speaker who nevertheless can barely keep a staff and has to siphon funds from his business for personal use. When a new hire tells him about a prospective customer, Mickey steals the sale, talking a senile retiree named Gorvy (Alan Arkin) into buying more insurance than he needs. He also discovers that Gorvy owns a rare violin that’s worth quite a chunk of change. Let the conniving ensue.
The first half of the film progresses almost episodically: Mickey is robbed by a seductive drunk and tries to win back his ex-wife (Lea Thompson), but what these scenes have to do with each other—or what they tell us about Mickey—is never quite clear. It’s not until he meets a shady locksmith (Billy Crudup) at Gorvy’s place that an actual plot kicks in. Theft is on each of their minds, but when they’re nearly caught, the situation gets dire fast.
Kinnear is fairly successful in embodying this unethical jerk, but that’s actually a problem: It’s difficult to root for a guy to wriggle his way out of a bad situation when he really, truly deserves it. Crudup’s Randy, meanwhile, is too much of a loose cannon to be taken seriously, and Arkin’s Gorvy is more demanding-old-man irritating than pitiable. The film’s worst sin, though, is its resolution, which is as overly complicated as it is too reliant on coincidence. It’s also probably nonsensical upon closer inspection, but it’s doubtful any viewers will want to inspect Thin Ice that closely.