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Film review: 'The Ice Harvest' strikes out big time

THE ICE HARVEST — * 1/2 — John Cusack, Billy Bob Thornton, Connie Nielsen; rated R (profanity, violence, gore, vulgarity, nudity, sex, brief drugs); Carmike 12 Theaters; Century Theatres 16; Cinemark 24 at Jordan Landing; Megaplex 17 at Jordan Commons.

The makers of "The Ice Harvest" succeeded with one of their goals, which was to make Wichita Falls, Kan., look as dreary and bleak as possible.

The rest of the film — an uneasy hybrid of the foul-mouthed yule comedy "Bad Santa" and the witty caper film "The Grifters" — it's even more dreary and bleak.

"The Ice Harvest" is supposed to be a thriller with dark comic elements, but the movie stops being entertaining fairly early on, and none of its characters is even remotely likable.

This is certainly not a worthy vehicle for its stars, John Cusack and Billy Bob Thornton, who teamed once before in 1999's "Pushing Tin." Cusack stars as Charlie Arglist, a shady lawyer who embezzles from his mob-connected employer, Bill Guerrard (Randy Quaid). Charlie's partner in crime is Vic (Thornton), a disreputable strip-club owner who has convinced the panicky attorney to make his final "withdrawal" on Christmas Eve.

However, something about Vic's demeanor has Charlie worried, and he starts having doubts about his partner's sincerity. As expected, there are numerous double-crosses and subplots, one of which involves Charlie's former best friend (Oliver Platt).

None of this is as amusing as director Harold Ramis, and screenwriters Robert Benton and Richard Russo ("Nobody's Fool") seem to think it is. Also, Thornton's bad-boy "Bad Santa" routine was already getting tiresome in this year's "Bad News Bears" remake. Here, he doesn't even seem to be trying for something different.

But the film's biggest mistake may be having actress Connie Nielsen try to duplicate Kathleen Turner's "Body Heat" role. She's too glacial to be a convincing femme fatale. Only Quaid gets out unscathed, and his character doesn't even appear until the final 20 minutes.

"The Ice Harvest" is rated R for frequent use of strong sexual profanity, some strong scenes of violence (including shootings, a stabbing and some violence against women), some graphic gore, crude sex talk and use of crude sexual slang terms, female nudity, brief sex and other sexual contact (including glimpses of a pornographic movie), and some brief drug content (some references, as well as use of painkillers). Running time: 88 minutes.