Directed by Jill Sprecher
Things aren't going so well for Mickey Prohaska (Greg Kinnear). His wife kicked him out of the house. His job as an insurance salesman is neither fulfilling nor lucrative. And he is stuck in dull and frigid Kenosha, Wisconsin with no prospects of escaping to warmer climes. So when the chance comes to con a local, elderly recluse (Alan Arkin), Mickey jumps at the easy money.
Such is the general premise of countless dark comedies about inept con men at their wits' end, and it's also the story in Thin Ice, the first feature film in a decade from writer-director siblings Jill and Karen Sprecher (they co-wrote the film and Jill directed), who made their mark in the late 90s and early 2000s with Clockwatchers and Thirteen Conversations About One Thing. (The film was apparently substantially reedited without their cooperation.)
Thin Ice reaches for weirder, darker undertones but the path it traces is so commonplace, its characters so drawn from a stockpile of quirky indie films, that little of it manages to pass muster as more than a by-the-numbers comedy of errors. The one exception is Arkin's winning performance as the charmingly befuddled Gorvey Hauer, although even here the traces of his character in Little Miss Sunshine are easy to find.
For the most part, the movie shows Mickey's seemingly simple con getting disturbed by new complications. The latter are often so contrived that you can practically see the writer's hands pushing the hurdles into place. But Mickey always finds a way to keep the whole scheme moving forward in even more volatile directions, including an extended, unfortunate run-in with unstable ex-con Randy (Billy Crudup).
Thin Ice clocks in at 94 minutes and a large part of its problem is just how much plot it chooses to stuff into that amount of time. Mickey encounters and resolves problems at a rapid clip, and about half way through, the uneasy notion begins to cross your mind that there's no point to what's on screen other than watching increasingly anxious characters trying in vain to fix their own mess.
And if the movie were just that, then Thin Ice would be just another C+ project, effectively made in all respects but with no flair, added excitement, or substantial artistry. Instead, things turn unnecessarily elaborate and, frankly, absurd in the end. Without giving to much away, it's enough to say that upon leave the theater, you might feel like echoing Gorvey Hauer's lament, spoken to Mickey: "It used to be you could trust people." By the end of Thin Ice, you'll be hard pressed to believe in much of what you sat through, but worse, you won't feel like you lost or gained much in the process.
Opens February 17