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Thu November 17, 2005
Having fun with the little hoods who people America
By John DeSando, WCBE's "It's Movie Time"
"Film noir films (mostly shot in gloomy grays, blacks and whites) showed the dark and inhumane side of human nature with cynicism and doomed love, and they emphasized the brutal, unhealthy, seamy, shadowy, dark and sadistic sides of the human experience. An oppressive atmosphere of menace, pessimism, anxiety, suspicion that anything can go wrong, dingy realism, futility, fatalism, defeat and entrapment were stylized characteristics of film noir. The protagonists in film noir were normally driven by their past or by human weakness to repeat former mistakes." Tom Dirks
Once a genre such as film noir (really not a genre but a style of film) makes a home in a culture, it soon becomes satirized, usually after it has been exalted and worshipped and replayed ad nauseam. Ice Harvest teams up with the recent Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang, which spoofs private detectives, to have fun with the little hoods who people America, in this case Wichita Falls, Kansas. It's very cold out there.
John Cusack as a mob lawyer and Billy Bob Thornton as a strip-joint magnate have stolen $2 million from Cusack's boss on an icy Christmas. As Cusack tries to be cool like an Elmore Leonard hero, he travels the beer/strip joint circuit before they are to leave in the morning with the dough. The low lives he meets along the way, from cold ex wife to thief to kingpin, are symptomatic of how to screw up a getaway without really trying. Rightfully, the two crooks are skeptical about getting the money out of town under this ice storm anyway.
Cusack's done the loveable con before in the excellent Grifters (1990) and the paranoid young visitor to a motel of mayhem in Identity (2003). Because he never looks like a criminal, he has our sympathy and good will. Thornton, on the other hand, always looks like he's pulling something off. In fact, the Christmas setting ought to remind his fans that he's been the baddest Santa ever in Bad Santa, a landmark satire of Christmas conventions and an appropriate companion piece for this film.
One misstep: (I can hardly believe the comic-savvy director Harold Ramis let it happen) an extended drunken sequence with Oliver Platt. Annoyingly flat is what I call it. Or just annoying if you're a minimalist.
At one point, after Christmas songs play each setup, the Chipmunks singing their chestnut seems goofy enough to be just right. Connie Nielsen as the femme fatale knockoff of Lauren Bacall fits the genre perfectly.
John DeSando teaches film at Franklin University and co-hosts WCBE's "It's Movie Time," which can be heard streaming at www.wcbe.org Fridays at 3:01 pm and 8:01 pm. Contact him at JDeSando@Columbus.RR.com