April 8th, 2014

THE ICE HARVEST (2005) ** ½

When Harold Ramis passed away last month, I wanted to review one of his movies to honor him. Of course, things got piled up and I didn’t quite get around to it. Now that I finally had some time, I wanted to choose a Ramis film I hadn’t already seen. So I settled on The Ice Harvest.

John Cusack and Billy Bob Thornton commit the perfect crime and steal two million dollars from the Mob on Christmas Eve. All they have to do is chill out and wait for an ice storm to blow over so they can make their getaway. Of course, Cusack gets jittery and runs around all over town, drawing the eye of the cops. When a Mob enforcer tries to bump off the duo, they lock him in a foot locker and try to dispose of him. Predictably, they try to double-cross each other.

Based on the novel by Scott Phillips, it’s easy to see that The Ice Harvest is going for a Coen Brothers sort of vibe. It’s a bit of a departure for Ramis, but it does have an undercurrent of black humor that fits his sensibilities. Cusack and Thornton are pretty good, but their characters are really unlikeable, and it makes it hard for you to really root for them. But Oliver Platt lightens things up as Cusack’s drunken buddy. And I will say this for the flick; Ramis captures the right pathetic note of what it must feel like to spend your Christmas Eve at a strip club.

If I had written this review the day I watched the movie, I probably would’ve given it Two Stars, mostly because of its unlikeable characters and the bleak world view. But after a day or so I still found myself thinking about the film, which rarely, if ever happens (especially when you watch as many movies as I do). Because the flick stuck with me (and probably because I dug its Christmas-y film noir approach), I bumped it up to ** ½. Maybe if I revisit it down the road, I may grow to appreciate it even more.

Oliver Platt gets the best line of the movie when he says, “Ho-ho-ho, mofo!”

THE EXECUTIONER 2: KARATE INFERNO (1974) * ½

Sonny Chiba is a lot of things. Is he one of the greatest Kung Fu action heroes of all time? Yes. Is he one of the most charismatic actors of the past 50 years? You bet. Is he one of those guys that I’ll watch anything he’s in, no matter how bad the movie is? Absolutely. However, one thing Sonny Chiba is not is a physical comedian; a point that The Executioner 2: Karate Inferno makes painfully clear.

The Executioner was a terrific action vehicle for Sonny, so I was looking forward to Part 2. Sadly, this sorry sequel contains very little of what made the first film memorable and fun. In fact, it almost feels like the filmmakers were trying to tarnish the memory of the original at every turn.

This time, Sonny teams up with two other bozos to steal some jewels and rescue a snot-nosed brat. When the heist goes awry, they have to break into a heavily secured bank vault to get the jewels. Of course, there are double-crosses, but sadly, no Karate Infernos.

Yes, the most disappointing thing is that the action is almost non-existent in The Executioner 2 until the last ten minutes. Even then, they simply rehash the same elements from the first movie. Sonny even punches a guy’s eyeballs out again, but it’s not nearly as cool. There’s also a really dumb scene where Sonny punches a guy so many times that his head spins around 360 degrees. It’s really dumb and cartoonish.

And that basically sums up the movie in a nutshell. The scenes of Sonny and his two partners clowning around are especially dire. They act like a third rate Three Stooges tribute band or something. (There’s even a scene where a guy gets his hand Krazy Glued to a table.) And the grossout humor involving boogers, piss, and shit wouldn’t even cut it in a Farrelly Brothers movie. Overall, this is just one sad, depressing affair.

AKA: Karate Inferno.

TOP HAT (1935) **

Fred Astaire falls for Ginger Rogers, who mistakes him for his married friend (Edward Everett Horton, the narrator from Fractured Fairy Tales on Rocky and Bullwinkle). Of course, the case of mistaken identity causes Fred to get slapped in the face more than a few times. But when Ginger takes off and marries a fey Italian dress designer, Fred finally realizes he has to straighten the whole mess out if he ever wants to live happily ever after with her.

Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers are two terrific performers. There’s no doubt about that. And when they are dancing together, they are able to generate a modicum of movie magic. The scene where Astaire tap dances in the room above Rogers and wakes her up is pretty funny; and his rendition of “Cheek to Cheek” is solid too.

However, all the stuff in between is rather insufferable. The plot is horribly contrived and often tough to stomach. This is one of those movies where everything could’ve been wrapped up in ten minutes if someone just took the time to explain everything. But no. No one speaks up and straightens things out, so there are a lot of scenes where Ginger gets flustered because she thinks she’s in love with a married man and she gives Fred an inordinate amount of shit. (Seriously, all she had to do was look at his ring finger.)

Having said all that; I’m still sorta glad I sat through this. This was my first experience with a Astaire and Rogers movie, so I at least got to see what the fuss was about. Their dancing scenes are great, but the rest of the movie… yeesh.