Pulling off the perfect crime is all about “character,” says small-town lawyer and part-time thief Charlie Arglist. So, too, is assembling a shady crime comedy with nary a car chase or special effect in sight.
“The Ice Harvest,” director Harold Ramis’ toe dip into funny film noir, crackles with flawed personalities and untenable situations. John Cusack (as Charlie) may be the star here, but his supporting cast deserves the extended bow. That means Oliver Platt might start getting the kind of applause that could make him the next Philip Seymour Hoffman, a fellow character actor finally thrust onto center stage.
“Harvest” opens after the fact. Charlie and his seedy partner, Vic (Billy Bob Thornton), have just swiped more than $2 million from Bill Guerrard (Randy Quaid), the mob kingpin in Kansas City. The money is in the bag, but Charlie can’t shake the notion that something went awry. His gut proves sound when, on the night before Christmas, some shifty characters start asking too many questions about both Charlie and Vic.
It doesn’t help that Charlie all but paints a sign on his head saying he’s about to split town. He drops big bucks at the local strip joint and starts making time with Renatta (Connie Nielsen), an aging ecdysiast-turned-strip-club-manager with … well, the gold-digging heart of her former trade.
Before Charlie can go, he runs into Pete (Mr. Platt), an old friend who married Charlie’s ex-wife, a woman who would give Mr. Freeze the shivers. Their extended scenes together, which end with Pete face down in Charlie’s former home, lets Mr. Platt play the best movie drunk since Arthur stumbled onto the scene.
Poor Charlie can’t catch a break. All the delays, plus a fierce winter storm that coats the streets with ice, mean he’ll have to face down mob boss Guerrard one way or another.
The black humor builds until it curdles, and Mr. Ramis knows not to push the gags too far.
Mr. Cusack’s teen looks have long since faded, and his career second act can only benefit from it. His face hangs like a mournful portrait in “Harvest,” giving his appearance the necessary bite. Mr. Thornton, on the other hand, could play a fella like Vic in his sleep, and it’s a shame we don’t see more of him here.
Screenwriters Robert Benton and Richard Russo, who previously gave us “Nobody’s Fool,” spin our notion of small-time pieties on their ear.
“The Ice Harvest” may well become this year’s “Bad Santa,” a deliciously sour candy sucker to counteract the yuletide treats to come.
TITLE: “The Ice Harvest”
RATING: R (Nudity, violence, coarse language and gore)
CREDITS: Directed by Harold Ramis. Written by Robert Benton and Richard Russo.
RUNNING TIME: 88 minutes
WEB SITE: www.theiceharvest.com
MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS