Friday, August 10, 2012

Note To Harold Ramis: Return To Comedy (The Ice Harvest Is Frigid)

The Good: Decent acting
The Bad: Predictable story, Characters are generally awful, Not funny
The Basics: With its dark edge blunted by ridiculous humor, The Ice Harvest lacks a place to become decent at either drama or comedy or something in between.

There are several successful movies that fall outside the strict categories that most people like to classify films in. I am always perplexed when searching for Brazil to find it in the "Comedy" section, a clear mark that someone has not seen the entire film or understood it. The American President and the show Wonderfalls come right to mind of works that effectively blend comedy and drama into what is quickly becoming known as dramadies. Aaron Sorkin (The American President, Sports Night, and The West Wing) seems to be a master of dramadies, creating either comedies that aren't funny enough to be called comedies or dramas that are constantly making jokes. Aaron Sorkin is a master of the dramedy. Harold Ramis is not.

With The Ice Harvest, Ramis directs a movie that is billed as a dark comedy that seems to have forgotten the actual comedy. Or perhaps it - like Brazil - was mislabeled as a comedy. In which case, this is a drama that mortgages almost every dramatic moment with a gag or punctuates it with slapstick. I loathe slapstick. As it stands, I think The Ice Harvest is far too dramatic to be a comedy and as a result, the humor in the movie, which is very dark in tone, comes off as far too forced to be real or enjoyable.

Charlie, lawyer for the mob in Witchita Falls, is spending Christmas Eve running from the mob which he has just stolen over two million dollars from. With his partner in crime, though it's unclear why, Vic, Charlie spends the day preparing to flee Kansas and go somewhere else. In the process, he aids local strippers, the drunk who is now married to his wife, and occasionally, himself. He runs repeatedly into Officer Tyler, who wants Charlie to put in a good word for him with the mob, as he tries to out run and outwit the assassins sent to kill him and recover the mob's money.

First off, the R rating here is pretty much only for background nudity throughout the movie and some serious violence near the movie's end. Most of the movie would be perfectly appropriate for people younger than 18, but most people under 18 would not be entertained by the film. Actually, it's hard to feel entertained over 18 by The Ice Harvest.

I've no problem with violence in movies. The problem with The Ice Harvest is that in defying conventions of either comedy or drama it ends up doing neither terribly well. So, for example, at one point Vic and Charlie are moving a footlocker and Ramis continually pans back to Vic's gun, which is pointed on Charlie throughout. The audience, well before Charlie, is able to infer that Vic is planning to make a move on his partner. Not funny. This is immediately followed by a scene where someone is sent to die in freezing cold water. Also, not funny. The punctuation to it is Charlie running frantically because he realized he forgot to get something from the dying person. The joke falls flat.

In fact, the only real humor that works is in a scene between Vic and Charlie wherein the two are loading the footlocker into Charlie's borrowed car. The pair is using Charlie's car because of how roomy it is rumored to be and the dialogue in that scene is funny, even if it is predictable.

Sadly, that's the only real humor in The Ice Harvest that works. The writers and director Harold Ramis no doubt expect such characters as Pete to come across as funny. He's a drunk and he obligingly makes a spectacle of himself and vomits in the course of the movie. But he's not funny and his character is not funny. Indeed, Charlie easily uses Pete to make one of the movie's most dramatic sheerings. Pete was sleeping with Charlie's wife before she and Charlie divorced. Charlie muses about who she might be sleeping with now, a question that has not occurred to Pete before that moment.

Sadly, none of the characters are likable. The movie starts as a story of a man who lacks character who just wants to get out of Kansas (who can blame him?) and decides robbery is the way he is going to go about it. It quickly degenerates into a whole lot of killing. Charlie is clearly upset by this at first, which felt very real, but he quickly acclimates to it and that weakened his character significantly.

In fact, all that does work in this movie with consistency is the acting. Oliver Platt plays the unlikable Pete very well. Unfortunately for Platt, his character is given some lines which don't quite fit his character. So, while "Yo-ho-ho, mo-fo!" is a funny line and Platt delivers it surprisingly well, it does not fit his character's background or setting at all. Billy Bob Thornton plays Vic well enough (I seem to recall him being better in ), but is not earth shattering.

John Cusak is the lead here and I wanted to like him. The Ice Harvest slides by without his charisma that he has displayed to his advantage in other movies. Instead, he seems out of place, though he plays the dramatic moments well. His ability to convey understanding with a look, communicating with his eyes, serves him well here. When the movie began, I felt that Nicolas Cage could have done the role and perhaps the reason Ramis used Cusak was because he wanted to try to sell this as a comedy. Had he gone straight drama and used Cage - or played Cusak as darker - perhaps The Ice Harvest would have worked.

But, that's not this movie. While the movie claimed to be 88 minutes long, it felt far longer with its consistent, oppressive tone.

As un-chic as it is at this point, everywhere The Ice Harvest fails - especially in character - is a place Payback succeeds. Mel Gibson may not be the most popular person right now, but Payback tells a quirky, dark, dramatic story of people of low moral caliber far better than this work did. So, Mr. Ramis, please, return to comedy and leave the dark killer stories to people who revel in that better.

For other works with Mike Starr, be sure to visit my reviews of:
Jersey Girl
Star Trek: Deep Space Nine - “Badda-Bing, Badda-Bang”
Snake Eyes
Miller’s Crossing


For other films, be sure to check out my Movie Review Index Page for an organized listing!

© 2012, 2007 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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