Charlie Arglist (John Cusack) is a mob lawyer who believes that committing the perfect crime is simply a matter of character, needing only a cool head to deal with any unforeseen circumstances that may arise. Unfortunately for Charlie, he is not as level-headed as he’d like to think he is- a situation that becomes apparent as he attempts to leave Wichita, Kansas after stealing $2 million from his boss, Guerrard (Randy Quaid), one particularly inclement Christmas Eve. Charlie’s particular complications come in the form of his less-than-trustworthy partner in the heist, Vic (Billy Bob Thornton), the arrival of Guerrard‘s enforcer (Mike Starr), the advances from stripclub owner Renata (Connie Nielsen) and his drunken friend Pete (Oliver Platt).
Although advertised as a straight comedy, The Ice Harvest, based on the novel by Scott Phillips, is more of a noir film masquerading as a black comedy, abound with shady characters doing shady things, double-crosses and a dangerous femme fatale. Unfortunately, the film fails because it doesn’t try hard enough to qualify for either genre, attempting to walk a line between comic and noir, failing on both accounts. The comedic moments that do deliver are few and far between while the story’s twists and turns are not that unpredictable. The Ice Harvest never lives up to its full potential, underachieving in almost everything it sets out to do.
The cast try their best with the material they’re given. Cusack comes off more as existentially weary than dimwitted, struggling to make Charlie a likeable character. However, every nice deed Charlie does in the film is undercut by an observing character who notes how unusual it is for Charlie to be behaving that way. Thornton is suitably reserved and cool in the few minutes of screen time that he receives. Nielsen’s Renata oozes a Veronica Lake-like sensuality, knows it and uses it to subtly twist men toward her own ends. Although played more broadly than one would expect in relation to the rest of the film, Platt’s drunken Pete is the common denominator for all the funny parts that succeed. One of the film’s few surprises is the usually likeable and buffoonish Randy Quaid’s performance as the enraged and dangerous mob boss.
Sadly, for all their hard work, the cast is let down by the film’s script, leaving The Ice Harvest a rather lukewarm cinematic experience.