ByBenjamin Marlatt, writer at

On Christmas Eve, in Wichita, Kansas, mob lawyer Charlie Arglist (John Cusack) and crooked partner Vic Cavanaugh (Billy Bob Thornton) steal around $2 million from their mob boss Bill Guerrard (Randy Quaid). Seems like an easy getaway to them, but due to the cold weather conditions, Vic keeps the cash at his place, while both he and Charlie try to evade Guerrard.

While in hiding, Charlie’s trying to help strip-club owner and long-time crush Reneta Crest (Connie Nielsen) in gaining a compromising photo of a local politician she’s hoping to blackmail in order to keep her business open. Plans, though, get more dicey for Charlie as he finds out Bill has sent out his enforcer Roy Gelles (Mike Starr) to deal with Charlie and Vic.

Despite the talented cast and director Harold Ramis at the helm, The Ice Harvest is one of the most criminally underrated films of the past 10 years. For over 30 years, writer/director/producer/actor Harold Ramis has put together one of the most impressive streaks, not just in comedies, but films in general. This film is much darker in tone than what we’ve seen from him before, but the way he handles it, balancing both comedy and thriller and also the pacing he sets with the more tense moments shows his versatility as a director. Ramis has always gotten his rightful praise as a writer, but as a director he’s never really gotten quite the same amount of credit as he should’ve.

When you watch this film, you’ll instantly pickup Coen brothers vibes. In fact, I bet there’s quite a few people out there that probably thought this was a Coen brothers film until they saw Harold Ramis’s name pop up at the end credits. It’s not an original film, clearly, but any lack in freshness is compensated by the cast, the sharp dialogue and Ramis’s direction. What’s fresh is that Ramis has never previously been known for going dark as he does here. He’s done raunchy, political incorrect and even family-friendly humor, but this type of bloody humor was new territory for him.

One of the primary strengths of this film is the cast. John Cusack’s Charlie Arglist is by no means a good guy (he is a lawyer, after all), but there’s something about him we still find likeable. His scenes with Oliver Platt (some of the funniest in the film) show that he genuinely cares about the people he knows, and even when it seems like all is going to hell in a hand basket, Cusack’s Arglist has a calming presence that bounces off the other more charismatic characters well.

Playing alongside Cusack for most of the film are Billy Bob Thornton and Connie Nielsen. Thornton does what he does best. Playing a foul-mouthed crook with a shit-eating grin better than anyone else. You know right from the start that there’s something not right about his character, but Thornton’s trademark smarmy charm keeps you wondering maybe he’s not all bad.

Nielsen’s character was originally gonna be played by the spectacular Monica Bellucci, which would’ve had me camping outside the theater overnight while I wait for the first showing. I didn’t get Bellucci, but believe me, Nielsen isn’t a bad second choice by any means whatsoever. Reneta is sexy, smart and such a flirt with Charlie, it’s no wonder he can hardly think straight when he’s around her. There’s an edge to her, though, that shows she’s more than just an obligatory pretty face standing in front of the camera.

Both Oliver Platt and Randy Quaid show up in two considerably smaller, but scene-stealing nonetheless, supporting performances. Like Thornton’s ability to charm you like a slick snake oil salesman, Platt has playing the loveable drunk down to a science. He has two memorable drunken rants here that ends up with him vomiting in Charlie’s car, despite the fact that as Charlie pointed out, “You had the whole fucking parking lot!”

Randy Quaid, before he went Cousin Eddie crazy in real life, has a few small moments that are darkly funny and menacing altogether. Of course, we instantly think of his role as Cousin Eddie from the Vacation movies, and it’s a funny performance, but this role as well as the ones he gave in The Paper, Midnight Express and his Oscar nominated turn in The Last Detail with Jack Nicholson showed he had more range as an actor than people give him credit for.

The Ice Harvest doesn’t bring anything new to the table and it’s not at the level of Harold Ramis’s Mount Rushmore of films. That’s not an easy task to accomplish anyway. That said, we’re still treated to a great cast, a few nice twists and turns, and Ramis takes the humor he’s always been able to bring and splatters it with a dark, grisly edge we haven’t seen from him before. He’s up to the task, though, and what results is easily his most overlooked film.

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