The Ice Harvest

Opens Wed., Nov. 23, at Pacific Place and others.

Only now does Harold Ramis discover film noir? It seems a little late for the veteran director of Caddyshack and Groundhog Day, and a little off genre, though he attempts to give Harvest a comic spin. With the right script or performers, he's a capable director. Here, despite his past good will, he's a head-scratching failure, smothering John Cusack and Billy Bob Thornton with him in a Wichita, Kan., snowbank on Christmas Eve. It's like he was channel surfing one night, a fine glass of pinot noir in one hand (and perhaps a well-rolled spliff in the other), when he first stumbled upon Double Indemnity and Fargo in one extended La-Z-Boy sitting. It doesn't matter if Harvest is actually based on a recent novel by Scott Phillips, the crackers excavated in a '50s fallout shelter would taste fresher.

Cusack plays a lush/lawyer who embezzles $2 million from a mobster/ strip-club owner (Randy Quaid), abetted by mob underling Thornton. Oliver Platt provides a little comic relief—or so Ramis would like us to think—as the town drunk, and Connie Nielsen the sex appeal as a brothel proprietor. The gimmick is supposed to be that Cusack and Thornton have the loot, then can't leave town because an ice storm makes driving impossible. Then they, and everyone else, drive around without consequences. The effect is like giving the shark in Jaws rubber teeth—be afraid, very afraid . . . no, don't be.

Remember the wood chipper scene in Fargo? Well, rent that again. Ramis has something similar in mind as Cusack and Thornton dispose of a (supposedly) dead hit man in a trunk, shoving it along an icy dock over a frozen lake, but that's what the entire movie feels like—moving luggage. Thornton's presence only reminds us of the beribboned-shit gift of Bad Santa; Cusack seems to think he's in a gun-toting revival of It's a Wonderful Life; Nielsen is merely channeling Barbara Stanwyck; and Ramis appears trapped in some TiVo/bong-water flashback to a Billy Wilder film he didn't understand in the first place.

With its many odd edits and story lapses, Harvest feels like a film extensively recut—to no avail—after Ramis was done shooting. It somehow wants to be a genre spoof, like the recent Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang, but there's absolutely no humor or enjoyment to the blood and double crosses. In KKBB, Robert Downey Jr. has a segment of one finger hacked off, and he sensibly retrieves it—like the famous Bobbit member—to be surgically reattached. Here, Cusack keeps his mitts (and wits) intact, but when he finds someone else's severed thumb in a vice, he inexplicably pockets the thing. Later, as he debates with Thornton what to do about the guy in the trunk, he simply tosses it out the window. It had no purpose, and it leads to nothing. Ramis should've done the same with this script. (R)

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