It's perfectly possible to enjoy The Ice Harvest, just as soon as you recognize it as Harold Ramis' willful attempt to thwart every expectation he's built up in his career as a cineplex funster. "From the director of Groundhog Day and Caddyshack!" you'll chuckle to yourself as faces are ground into pavement, thumbs are severed and knife-wielding antagonists are dispatched in a ballistic frenzy that splashes blood all over a scheming strip-club manager (Connie Nielsen).
Analyze that, Daily Variety. Calling Ramis' bleak, violent Christmas Eve caper a "black comedy" requires a warped definition of the latter term. Sure, Billy Bob Thornton is here, as a pornographer/thief who participates in the liberation of $2 million from an unsuspecting mobster. But Mr. Bad Santa's appearances are intermittent enough to indicate that he's merely fulfilling some industry edict that he now star in one brass-knuckled yuletide story per year. Most of the laughs that Thornton's character gets are based on reputation alone; take a close look, and you'll see that his Vic Cavanaugh is as much of a glumly irredeemable reprobate as everyone else in this Wichita nightmare.
That extends all the way to ostensible protagonist Charlie Arglist (John Cusack), the gangland lawyer who does the actual lifting of the $2 mil only to endure a long night of fear and doubt when inclement weather delays his departure to sunnier, safer climes. In a snap decision, partner Vic gets to "hold onto" the money while they wait, plunging Charlie into an ever-worsening cycle of paranoia and panic. While he tries to determine who among his circle of shady acquaintances doesn't have his worst interests at heart which, in a movie like this, could be nobody we learn what a noxious environment Charlie inhabits. It's a world of failed marriages, predatory lovers and fake friendships, where the closest thing to true affection is the protectiveness a fresh-faced bar patron feels for a stripper when one of the other customers gets too friendly with her nether regions.
Given the sky-high sleaze factor, the first half of the movie feels disappointingly inert, meandering around with Charlie and awaiting a takeoff that seems as far away as his plane's. Things start to pick up with the arrival of Oliver Platt, who plays the sloppily inebriated current husband of Charlie's shrewish ex-wife. Starting his night three sheets to the wind and only getting worse from there, this is the genially offensive guy you want to spend Christmas Eve with, though Charlie is too preoccupied and/or alienated to properly enjoy it. From there on in, the movie revels in its own sordidness, making it clear that we're not supposed to like anybody just have fun witnessing their blithe double-crosses and the violence (both psychic and actual) they substitute for communication. And you can tell Ramis is savoring every résumé-shredding minute of it. All across the country, shocked moviegoers are asking themselves: Is this any way for a former Ghostbuster to behave?