The Ice Harvest certainly knows what kind of movie it is. In this Mob-world heist comedy, everyone’s in on the scam. John Cusack’s a businessman with big, bad ideas about how to make some extra money. Billy Bob Thornton’s a sleazebag. And the phrase “I don’t want you to take this the wrong way” is used to soften a potentially reputation-killing compliment—which, in this case, happens to be the observation “You’re just about the nicest guy I know.”
But then there’s Oliver Platt, turning what should be a minor character—a drunk who needs a ride—into one who steals the show from Cusack’s Wichita, Kan., Mafia lawyer/strip-club owner, Charlie, and Thornton’s occupationally nonspecific ne’er-do-well, Vic. Platt is Pete, the husband of Charlie’s ex-wife. Far from being adversaries, Charlie and Pete, who were friends before all the relationship drama, only had their bond strengthened by their unions with the ball-buster. So when a restaurant manager begs Charlie to drive the hammered Pete home after too much reveling one Christmas Eve, he agrees. Besides, he has a more significant stressor to worry about on this particular night: Earlier, he and Vic made off with some $2 million from local kingpin Bill Guerrard (an enormous Randy Quaid). But they can’t skip town because of an unrelenting ice storm, and soon Guerrard is on Charlie’s tail—even though Vic has the cash, Charlie’s the connection.
Pete initially seems merely a lame, annoying wrench in Charlie’s already nerve-wracked, clichéd world. But Platt’s turn as the sloppy but jolly lush brightens every scene he’s in: Perfecting the bleary, crossed-eyed look of the thoroughly wasted, Platt needs only stand slump-shouldered in his disarrayed suit to effect a Horatio Sanz level of genial clownishness. He’s helped by The Ice Harvest’s sardonic script, adapted by Nobody’s Fool collaborators Richard Russo and Robert Benton from a Scott Phillips novel. Here’s Pete looking for some action, right after Charlie claims that he’s bedded his dancers only “when completely desperate, totally shitfaced, or generally had my head up my ass”: “Well I’m all three of those things now, so let’s go!”
Though you may hate yourself in the morning, you may even laugh when Pete pukes. (“You had the whole parking lot,” Charlie chides. “Why’d you have to do it in my car?”) But then again, you may not—not if you knew going in that this is a Harold Ramis movie and not, say, something by Shane Black. Though Cusack and Thornton also get their share of one-liners, this is a less antic film than Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang. As the frigid night of transgression wears on—ironically accompanied by holiday tunes—Vic gets more devious. Charlie, for his part, gets more haggard, taking a seedy-Wichita tour of strip clubs and bars as he tries to dodge Guerrard until the weather clears, swigging from a flask as he drives. Subplots involve Charlie’s love interest, club manager Renata (a Veronica Lake–ish Connie Nielsen); an incriminating photo of a local politician that everyone’s scheming to get hold of; and, of course, the baby-sitting of Pete, which branches off into an underdeveloped story about Charlie’s poor relationship with his young kids.
Of course, the important things here are the drive and, naturally, the con. The former unfolds a little lackadaisically by today’s stylish-noir standards, but at least cinematographer Alar Kivilo has the “stylish” part down, making the most of the dark sparkle that freezing rain lends Charlie’s lurid little world. As far as the latter goes, well, the violence escalates toward the end, with double crosses and mistakes of the wrong-place, wrong-time variety leading to corpses, kidnappings, and lots of blood (though the proceedings are mostly kept black-comedy-light, with even a trunk-stuffed bad guy getting a few laughs.) Throughout, Thornton easily handles his usual brand of sarcastic, soulless miscreant while Cusack portrays his more sensitive, anxious crook with a flickering sense of limitation. Russo and Benton’s script doesn’t always add up, and Ramis’ editor slips a little, too—most glaringly by allowing random scenes of dryness in a plot that hinges on continuous drenching precipitation. But as old as the job-gone-wrong story may be, The Ice Harvest is entertaining enough—and any movie that can make a slurred “turkey lurky” one of its funniest lines deserves a viewing over your holiday weekend.
Anyone who requires proof that Ryan Reynolds can be funny—and after his starring roles in bombs such as Waiting… and Van Wilder, quite a few probably do—need only give the guy four minutes. That’s the time it takes for Reynolds, swaddled in his Just Friends fat suit, to mouth the words to All-4-One’s luv ballad “I Swear,” complete with goofy hand gestures, exaggerated expressions, and a ridiculous attempt to sing the song’s multiple vocals all at once.
The bad news: This performance plays during the end credits of director Roger Kumble’s by-the-book contribution to holiday-themed romantic comedies. The good news: Just Friends is not quite as stupid as it looks—though Kumble (The Sweetest Thing) at times renders its comedy with a broadness that makes The Ice Harvest look like Masterpiece Theatre—so most moviegoers should be pleasantly diverted until Reynolds’ encore.
The setup is relatively simple. Chris (Reynolds), once a plus-size high-school reject, has slimmed down and become a successful Los Angeles music producer. While jetting with his girlfriend/client, the talentless, Courtney Love Jr. pop star Samantha James (a brash but funny Anna Faris), to France, Chris is forced by an aircraft malfunction to land in his New Jersey hometown, which he hasn’t been back to in 10 years.
So he surprises his mom (a too-flaky Julie Haggarty) and visits the old watering hole, where he spots Jamie (Amy Smart), the woman he was best buds with in high school—and, of course, the girl he secretly loved and was eventually rejected by. When a drunk friend suggests he could probably win her over now, Chris postpones his Paris trip and distracts Samantha in an attempt to do just that.
Here’s where things get a little mixed up. Scriptwriter Adam Davis—whose only previous big-screen credit is a 2001 MTV-backed movie called Spring Break Lawyer (!)—can’t seem to decide whether Chris is going after Jamie for love or revenge. One minute he’s looking longingly at his Jamie-is-the-best scribblings from high school; the next he’s boasting to a friend that a rented Porsche and callous attitude will make Jamie fall for him, because she was notorious for dating only jerks.
OK, so it’s a ploy, but one that’s not very well-executed: Chris never really acts like an ass during their handful of dates—an old diner waitress pinching your cheeks and saying in a baby voice that you’re “not a chubby bunny anymore!” would make anyone subtly threaten her with a fork— but the apparently highly sensitive Jamie reacts as if he were. So they take multiple trips through the infuriating love-you/hate-you cycle, with a fellow classmate, the seemingly perfect Dusty Dinkleman (Chris Klein), showing up to complicate things. None of it is very believable.
Where Davis excels is providing just the right dialogue for Reynolds’ proclivity for sometimes mannered, more often fuming sarcasm—think of him as the poor man’s Ben Stiller. Davis’ script isn’t quite worthy of Stiller himself, but it’s close, particularly with a running gag in which Chris’ younger brother, Mike (Chris Marquette), and friend Clark (Fred Ewanuick) rag on weepfest The Notebook (one of Chris’ date destinations) and its inherent “gay”-ness. The siblings’ perpetual, slap-happy feuding is just the right amount of physical comedy for anyone embarrassed to have bought a ticket to enjoy.
Unfortunately, the filmmakers elsewhere take bodily harm to brutal Home Alone levels. (The way Chris manhandles Samantha is borderline abusive.) They also give us the absurd destruction of a home that mimics a similar (and equally ineffectual) scene in Meet the Parents. It all leads to a predictable, eye-rolling end—but then “I Swear” woos you back, at least for a few minutes, in a way that All-4-One surely never intended. CP