Nobody does shat-upon hangdog as well as John Cusack. His wary emotional presence not only makes him a likable antihero but also lets him escape some of his tattier movies by seeming outside it all. Not so with The Ice Harvest, Harold Ramis’s shuffling after-the-fact noiromedy, which leaves Cusack adrift, along with his costar, the usually irrepressible Billy Bob Thornton.
Cusack plays Charlie Arglist, an underworld lawyer who lives and works in the strip-club-riddled burg of Wichita, Kansas. On a sleet-ridden Christmas Eve, he teams with a guy named Vic (Thornton, defused) to embezzle two million dollars from a client, with the aim of laying low and jumping town unnoticed. Charlie kills time pining after a femme fatale (Connie Nielsen), but he soon suspects a double cross.
One assumes that Ramis has something up his sleeve when the premise feels derivative and so much else perfunctory (innocent IMDB trivia time: Harvest shares a cinematographer, production designer, Thornton, even a stuntman with A Simple Plan). Confusingly, Harvest keeps signaling comedy, mostly black, deploying a thinly sketched locale punctuated with sleaze, some belabored comic bits (e.g. Oliver Platt as a gabby drunk), and repeated Ramisian talismans (a line of stoner graffiti, a dopey cop who keeps popping up).
Quietly, and incredibly, Ramis tries to reap some pop soul-searching out of Charlie’s predicament, even as Harvest lacks the blasé cool that could make that stuff bearable in the absence of actual characters. Caught between moods, on the cusp of Christmas and heist, in the endless night of an ice storm, Harvest outlines a potentially interesting in-between moment. Turning that into a movie, however, proves to be a perfect crime Ramis just can’t pull off.
Opens November 23