Tuesday, December 24, 2013

The Ice Harvest (2005): Because, Screw Christmas

The Ice Harvest (2005)
dir: Harold Ramis

"As Wichita falls, so falls Wichita falls."

Every Christmas, Hollywood counter-programs one or two cynical acidic movies around Christmastime in order to appeal to those of us who don't really want to watch award-winning film and are tired of the family feelings holiday genre. In 2005, that piece of counter-programming was the slice of lemon that is Harold Ramis' The Ice Harvest.

Harold Ramis is the comedy veteran who came out of SCTV, directed National Lampoon's Vacation, co-wrote Ghostbusters and also directed Groundhog Day. Ramis, however, is only as good as his screenplay, as Multiplicity and Bedazzled aren't exactly testaments to the genre.

That's where Robert Benton and Richard Russo step in with a brilliantly bitter, acidic adaptation of Scott Phillips' debut novel, The Ice Harvest, a screenplay about the last Christmas Eve in Wichita for a mob lawyer who just ripped off his employers.

Charlie Arglist (John Cusack) and his pal Vic Cavanaugh (Billy Bob Thornton) steal $2m from Arglist's employer and local mob boss Bill Guerrard (Randy Quaid). As a freezing rain coats the city, they wait for the morning before they actually make their getaway. Charlie is bombarded by a slew of challenges from his drunk friend who is now married to Charlie's ex-wife, a strip club bartender who is getting revenge on a guy for beating the guy's stripper girlfriend, and the sultry woman who is running the bars.

Ramis and team keep the movie somewhere between a drunken goodbye to the city and a Payback-esque revenge mob comedy. The good guys are sleazy, and the bad guys are worse. The movie is full of acidic burning dialogue that is filled with irony and sorrow. With a movie styled like a low-rent film noir (and not the new-fangled neo-noir), bitter humor, violence and nudity, and enough alcohol to cause 4 people to pass out, The Ice Harvest really pulls out the stops to make a Christmas movie for the people who hate Christmas.

There is little joy in The Ice Harvest. The little icy black comedy is sandpaper dry. The humor feels like a cross between fatalistic and regret. And, yet it is hilarious. The movie's half-assed twists and turns at the end are less genius than just accepted and tragic. This is the anti-Christmas movie that is all about the people who have lost the reason for Christmas. Why watch it? Because, screw Christmas, that's why.

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