“As Wichita falls, so falls Wichita Falls” is the bathroom-wall philosophy in The Ice Harvest, the latest in a growing list of movies for which Harold Ramis is running out of time to atone.
Of that phrase, the director has said he takes it to mean “in the Buddhist conception of cause and effect that everything we do here has an effect somewhere else.”
Excuse me, sir, do you have a permit to distribute that literature here?
The Groundhog Day director has gone from high-concept to no-concept. He confuses bared breasts, broken fingers and blown-out brains for edgy existential comedy in a conventional film-noir story that snappy quips from Oliver Platt and Billy Bob Thornton can’t save.
While an audience sits there waiting for a supposed comedy to have laughs, they’re pondering their $8, not their existence.
Ramis isn’t the only one to blame. This is the same stiff-delivery noir nonsense that co-writers Robert Benton (Nobody’s Fool) and author Richard Russo tried in 1998 with the awful Twilight. (Here, they adapt from Scott Phillips’ novel.) With the exception of Connie Nielsen’s knockout femme fatale, the hard-boiled style is similarly forced on this movie in consistently eye-rolling ways.
Welcome to Wichita Falls, a city filled with pornographers, violent mobsters, unscrupulous lawyers and the drunken over-privileged. Or, given that stall scrawl, is it Wichita? The movie’s never clear on that, suggesting an Anytown, U.S.A. argument that’s further code for “not funny.”
At least the town’s urban planning of a strip club on every corner provides a reasonable motive for why Vic (Thornton) would help swindle gangsters of $2 million. As a porn king, he seems comparatively unable to corner the market.
His partner in this crime is mob lawyer Charlie Arglist. Because Charlie is a John Cusack character, it’s inevitable he will end up caught in a downpour. Here, Charlie vomits over a bridge in freezing precipitation on Christmas Eve preventing him and Vic from leaving town for a tropical paradise. Cusack is left out in the rain as an actor, too, with a weak attempt at his character’s guilt.
Stuck until at least morning, Charlie and Vic must dodge hit man Roy (Mike Starr), deal with the duplicitous but desirable Renata (Nielsen), chauffeur Charlie’s lecherous-drunk buddy Pete (Platt) and avoid angry mob boss Bill (Randy Quaid). The Five Precepts of Buddhism — boiled down to no killing, stealing, sexual misconduct, lying or drinking — don’t apply.
The only time when The Ice Harvest‘s deadpan dialogue isn’t just dead is when it comes from Platt and Thornton’s mouths.
Despite being saddled with carrying arguably the film’s ugliest scene and being part of its lame-o lament for the middle-aged man, Platt livens the film with both choice comments and slapstick bits. And though a far cry from cynical Christmas comedy classic Bad Santa, Thornton offers priceless (and profane) gags about a Mercedes and marriage while lugging a trunk with human cargo.
It’s too easy to call the movie out by referencing when Bill calls Charlie’s college try at heroism the result of Charlie watching “too many stupid old movies.” But Bill does refer to him as a “farthammer.” It’s a slightly more original slam on a uniquely awful film in which everything falls.