'Ice' picks Wichita for humor-free setting

"It is futile to regret," says some character or other in "The Ice Harvest," a woefully miscalculated, distressingly unfunny dark comedy in the "Grifters" mold.

Somebody should regret it. Maybe director Harold Ramis, who has never come close to matching the glory of "Groundhog Day." Or John Cusack, who keeps hoping to cash in with something similar to his self-produced "Grosse Pointe Blank," or even "The Grifters," which was a pretty big break for him.

Or even Billy Bob Thornton, so anxious to have another holiday "hit" on his hands.

You remember "Bad Santa"? This is "Unwatchably Bad Santa."

Cusack stars as Charlie, a shady Wichita lawyer who, when we meet him, has just stolen "$2,147,000 and change" from a mobster. He's a beloved figure, a regular at all the local strip joints, even on an icy Wichita Christmas Eve. That's when he and Vic (Cusack's "Pushing Tin" co-star Billy Bob) pull off their skim/scam and plan to make their getaway.


Focus Features Photo

Billy Bob Thornton, left, and John Cusack scam mobsters out of $2.147 million in "The Ice Harvest."

But there are mobsters looking for them, led by Randy Quaid. There's a femme fatale (Connie Nielsen) to consider. The drunken oaf (Oliver Platt) who married Charlie's gold-digging ex-wife gets in the way of the get-away.

And so on.

Movie buffs will recognize the whole "Trapped in Paradise"/"Quick Change" story line of "the perfect crime" that doesn't end with the perfect getaway. Billy Bob fans will see the troubling signs of "phoning it in." And anybody with eyes will note that they found the ugliest stuff in a not-so-scenic town to photograph, especially the strip clubs.

Toss in a few not-really-random shootings, a missing finger, the odd stabbing (once through the foot), profane punch-lines, double-crosses and what are supposed to be hilarious strippers griping about how they got this black eye or that pastie, and how they don't want to work Christmas Eve.


Ice Harvest * 1/2


John Cusack and Billy Bob Thornton team up in Wichita to rip off some mobsters in this woefully miscalculated, distressingly unfunny dark comedy in mold of "The Grifters." There isn't a likable character, a pair of jokes that work or a scene that makes you wonder, "What will they come up with next?"

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It's all just pathetic. There isn't a likable character, a pair of jokes that work or a scene that makes you wonder, "What will they come up with next?"

Cusack always gives us someone worth watching. But he's left by his lonesome here. Not that he has much to play, or that he does much with what he's given.

Any laughter generated comes more from shock than amusement. There is this one running gag, this bit of graffiti on various bathroom walls.

"As falls Wichita Falls so falls Wichita."

They couldn't even manage a decent Kansas joke. Kind of makes you lonesome for "Surviving Christmas." Almost.


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