Harold Ramis has been gone for almost eight years but his legacy lives on. For someone who looked like he should be an accountant or a hospital administrator, Ramis wrote, produced, directed and/or acted in some of the best comedies ever. In May of 2010, he contacted autoimmune inflammatory vasculitis and spent the four years suffered from it.
When he died, President Barack Obama paid his respects. Even Bill Murray, who he had a falling out with, held back tears as he gave a shout-out to him at the 2014 Oscars. His last movie, Year One, wasn’t his best. I haven’t seen Stuart Saves His Family, but it’s the worst I saw. A friend of mine said he couldn’t finish Stuart, so I avoided it. He also commented greatly about The Ice Harvest, Ramis’ penultimate movie, that totally changed the tone from what we were using to seeing from him.
Set over a period of 18 hours on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day morning, it follows Charlie Arglist (John Cusack), a lawyer in the Wichita, Kan. area who works for a Midwestern mobster, Bill Guerrard (Randy Quaid), who devised a plan with a pornographer Vic Cavanaugh (Billy Bob Thornton) to steal over $2 million from an account. With freezing rain and the possibility of icy roads, they can’t skip town immediately. Vic offers, or more or less informs he’s going to keep the money, as they wait out the night until morning when they can fly out of town.
Charlie has his eyes set on Renata Crest (Connie Nielsen), operator of a strip club in Wichita that Bill owns. But his moment of happiness and celebration is cut short when he goes to the bathroom only to return to see Roy Gelles (Mike Starr), who works for Bill, asking gruff, militant bartender Sidney (Ned Bellamy) of his whereabouts.
Roy follows Charlie to another strip bar where he begins to
feel that both Roy and Bill know what has happened so quickly. Vic assures Charlie that Roy is just in town because his town lives in Wichita but Charlie begins to get suspicious of Vic as he sees him with a woman at a restaurant who isn’t his wife. At the same restaurant, Charlie is asked by management to escort his friend, a local well-off businessman, Pete Van Heuten (Oliver Platt), who is very drunk, home.
Even though Charlie and Pete are friendly toward each other, Pete is now married to his ex-wife, and thus the stepfather to his estranged kids. Pete even admits that he had sex with her while Charlie was married to her. So, now, that he’s being tracked by a mob enforcer, he’s having to babysit his drunk friend. At the same time, Charlie keeps running into a gullible but friendly police officer Tyler (T.J. Jagodowski).
The movie is a blend of dark comedy and film noir. Nielsen steals the show as a femme fatale who has both Charlie and Vic wrapped around her finger. She speaks in a seductive tone that harks back to the olden days. And Cusack brings a lot of the “Aw shucks!” attitude he portrayed in movies like Better Off Dead, One Crazy Summer, Grosse Pointe Blank and Say Anything. I’ve been told by some people that Cusack isn’t the same in real life and his latest slate of movies has him somewhere between Nic Cage and Bruce Willis.
For Ramis, this was a change of pace. Analyze This was about a mob crime boss seeking a therapist, but the tone was still lighter despite the violence. My friend equated this to Fargo, the 1996 movie in how it showed crime in middle America as its known. However, even though set in Wichita, Ramis filmed much of the movie in Illinois in suburbs outside of Chicago.
But like Fargo, it portrays a different view of the area. While most people might associate Kansas with The Wizard of Oz, crime exists everywhere. Just like like Fargo‘s tagline, “A lot can happen in the middle of nowhere,” anything is possible when greed takes hold.
One thing I like is the relationship between Charlie and Pete. This two men should be on Jerry Springer fighting but I think they both realize they’ve been hooked by the same woman, Sarabeth, who has used them. When Pete and Charlie crash a Christmas Eve dinner with Sarabeth, her parents and her children, Pete lets it out that her father was able to get some medical work done on his insurance. There’s also the feel that Sarabeth may be looking for her third husband.
And while Thornton is shown as the second lead, his role is more supporting. Having read the book of the same name written by Scott Phillips, Vic had a much lesser role. I’m speculating it was beefed up after Thornton signed on. Reportedly, Ramis approached Murray for a role in this movie, but they were still not on speaking terms, and Murray never returned his call. Considering that Murray has played bad guys in the past, he could’ve been approached to play Vic, Roy or Bill. But he would’ve been wrong. It’s possible Murray could’ve been suggested for the role of Sidney, who seems to be just as maddening as Karl Spackler from Caddyshack.
The Ice Harvest didn’t make much money, just over $10 million at the box office. But it did get better reviews than Year One. People may not think of it in the same vein as Ghostbusters, National Lampoon’s Animal House, or Groundhog Day, but it showed Ramis could do more than comedy.