Reviewed by

Bud Carlson

Movies about mob killings and diamond heists usually don’t take place in Kansas. But the irreverent and dark (and sometimes funny) film noir The Ice Harvest uses Wichita as its backdrop. And that’s not the only difference between this film and most other movies of its ilk.

 The movie version about the group of bad guys from Scott Phillips’ novel pulls no punches about the criminals’ attitudes towards their fellow Kansas residents. The film takes place almost entirely on a cold, ice-covered Christmas Eve, but no one in the movie is filled with the holiday spirit. One of the lines from the movie is “Only morons are nice on Christmas, and there are a lot of morons in Kansas.”

Charlie (John Cusack) and Vic (Billy Bob Thornton) steal $2 million from crime boss Bill Gerrard (Randy Quaid). Charlie is Gerrard’s attorney who also frequents strip clubs, including one run by Renata (Connie Nielsen). She is so beautiful that patrons of the club stop looking at the strippers when she walks by fully clothed. She speaks like Lauren Bacall and looks like Lizabeth Scott. But she too is not as pure-at-heart as she may first appear.  Charlie’s best friend is Pete (Oliver Platt), who is married to Charlie’s ex-wife, and is stepfather to Charlie’s children.

The movie is totally devoid of emotion, except for the hatred felt for Charlie by his son. Nobody fears anything, even death, although Charlie does worry about Gerrard finding him (even though he does nothing any reasonable person would do to avoid him). And the violence of the movie is so marginalized that one is desensitized to torture and death. When someone is locked in a trunk after having his thumb ripped off, nobody feels anything, and the movie actually plays it for a laugh.

It is never explained why Vic and Charlie are waiting around after they get the $2 million, which takes place at the open of the movie. In that first scene, Charlie gives it to Vic, and then they wait around until morning when they are planning to run away.  Why not split with the money right away? Isn’t that what any reasonable person would do? The only good part about the illogical nature of the story is that it makes the movie totally unpredictable.

 Ice Harvest is a film noir throwback much in the same way the recent Kiss Kiss Bang Bang was. That is to say that Harvest has many required noir elements: a femme fatale (Nielsen’s character Renata), a dim-witted dupe (Quaid’s character Gerrard), lots of dead people, and the fact that the movie takes place entirely at night. But unlike Kiss Kiss which is a better movie, Harvest lacks the constant supply of wit and inventiveness to mask the relentlessly grim and nihilistic attitudes. There just isn’t enough humor there to compensate for the nastiness that comprises the rest of the movie.

If you like dark and bloody noir films, where even the character you are rooting for is a bad guy, this movie might be right up your alley. But for the rest of us, there’s not much being offered here.

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