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Posted on 1/10/06 06:58 PM
Wallace (Peter Sallis) and Gromit run their own company called "Anti-Pesto." With it, they capture the rabbits that rummage the gardens of England, rather than killing them (this IS a G-rated movie). Eventually, Wallace uses a machine to cause the rabbits to dislike their standard food, but after the process, a "were-rabbit" has created a larger mess than standard ones. The duo are asked by Lady Tottington (Helena Bonham Carter) to weed out the problem, but her suitor (Ralph Fiennes) has other plans.
It has been a while, but the UK smash "Wallace and Gromit" has finally been brought to the big screen with Dreamworks distributing it. Back in 2000, director Nick Park has created a summer sensation called "Chicken Run," which only had ONE American star in it - Mel Gibson. Now, he and Simon Bax reunite for this latest effort, which is yet another hilarious claymation movie.
After "Corspe Bride," it doesn't come to any surprise that another film with British undertones would be welcome into theaters. This time, it's a stop-motion claymation adventure. "Curse of the Were-Rabbit" has more gadgets than you can shake a stick at, including a BV-6000 that sucks up all the rabbits in a glass jar. And Wallace still loves cheese more than ever, even if he's trying to go on a diet and eliminate negative thoughts with one of his gadgets. It's all handled well enough, and it's downright hilarious.
Moviegoers beware that this movie, like "Corpse Bride," is heavy on the British humor. And, like "Chicken Run," the cast includes only two familiar actors and actresses - Ralph Fiennes as Victor and Helena Bonham Carter as Lady Tottington. Both of them relish in their roles. But it wouldn't be a "Wallace and Gromit" movie without Peter Sallis as the voice of Wallace, wouldn't it? Also, while the movie has a dark tone, composer Hans Zimmer's slaphappy score is thrown into the mix to keep us from taking the whole thing too seriously. And it does good at that too.
Before the movie begins, you will be treated to "The Christmas Caper" which stars the penguins from "Madagascar." With this short being so hilarious, it sets the tone for a laugh-filled comedy that only the talented British can give us.
Posted on 1/10/06 06:57 PM
Ex-mercenary Frank Martin (Jason Statham) has taken his business to the United States. He also makes an acquaintance with a young boy named Jack (Hunter Cleary), as well as his mother Audrey (Amber Valetta). However, no matter where Frank goes, trouble follows, and that would be Gianni (Alessandro Gassman) and Lola (Katie Nauta), who kidnap Jack during a routine hospital appointment. Gianni request the family pay him, or their son will suffer the fate of a deadly poison. Thus Frank is put into a position where he must find Jack and stop the bad guys.
This year, we've been flanked with dozens of action movies. Sadly, the majority of them sucked ("Alone in the Dark", "Stealth", "xXx: State of the Union"), and makes us yearn for the days when the genre was revitalized ("Enemy of the State, "Face/Off", "The Rock"). Back in 2002, we've received a taste of full-throttle kung-fu action in the form of "The Transporter", which became a hit in theaters and (mostly) DVD, and became Statham's signature hit as Frank Martin. Little did we know that the sequel, which comes out after all the action bombs we've endured, would surpass everything that the original had.
So, what makes "Transporter 2" good? Director Louis Leterrier, the original's artistic director, picks up where Cory Yuen left off by pulling out all the stunts. Car chases? Adrenaline-pumping music? Well-choreographed kung-fu scenes? And another great performance by Jason Statham? Check, check, check, and check.
Another addition to "T2" is an inclusion of CGI scenes. You'll see it in action when Frank makes a near-death landing from one building to the next, rides on a jet-ski and lands on pavement, and escapes from a plane that has crashed into the ocean (the scene alone is less dizzying than the aerial fight scenes in "Stealth").
Also making a return are the fight scenes. Even if Leterrier is no John Woo, he manages to rip off plenty of the Hong Kong director's styles: Lola's two guns, heavy uses of slow motion, and interaction between Frank and the main characters.
Speaking of that, Amber Valetta's performance is a little hard to sit through. When the story kicks in and her kid is kidnapped, she starts yelling and it gets all too annoying. Hey, V, I know you're upset about your kid and all, but take a 'lude or something. It's a shame, because she delivers a good breakout performance, better than in "Hitch," IMO. But for the others, Katie Nauta makes us of her understated, yet solid role.
Running at a scant 88 minutes, shorter than the original's 94 minutes, "Transporter 2" gets every scene done without milking it. Statham, who'll likely tarnish his career now that he's in Uwe Boll's reiteration of the PC hit "Dungeon Siege" (well, according to my friends at the message boards), is a hoot and a holler, delivering deadpan punchlines and karate moves with the grace of Jackie Chan and Chow Yun-Fat. Surpassing the original's silly, but graceful action sequences, "Transporter 2" is 2005's better action thriller, and a worthy successor to the original and then some.
Posted on 1/10/06 06:56 PM
The crew above the Serenity will do any job that pays, even if it's illegal. Running the ship is Mal (Nathon Fillion), a hotshot veteran who was on the losing side of an interstellar war. Joining him is second-in-command Zoe (Gina Torres), pilot Wash (Alan Tudyk, "I Robot"), mechanic Kaylee (Jewel Staite), and muscle Jayne (Adam Baldwin). Mal gets more than he bargains for when he invites Dr. Simon Tam (Sean Maher) and his sister River (Summer Glau) aboard. The young girl was held captive in a government facility, and has since developed unimaginable combat skills and telepathic abilities. Now the crew must take on the Reavers, and their leader The Operative (Chiwetel Ejiofor), and protect the Tams.
It has been eight years after "Alien Resurrection" since Joss Whedon has been involved in a big screen project. During that time, he created a variety of great shows, including "Buffy," "Angel," and "Firefly." The latter is the backdrop for this new movie Whedon has directed AND written, and brings a majority of their cast to the big screen. And the title has changed, now it's called "Serenity," named after the TV show's ship.
For "Serenity," Whedon expands his style on a much grander scale (the budget is $40 million, double than what was used on his TV shows) since he's working 2-hour long movie. You've got his trappings: slick action scenes (we get to see River kicking ass like Buffy), well-developed characters, and comic undertones. The director makes some of the clichés feel fresh and realistic: sexual tensions between Kaylee and Simon (which is really funny near the end), the parental stylings, and the bad boy with a heart of gold (Jayne).
Whedon doesn't skip up on the dialog. As mentioned, "Serenity" borrows the comic timing of "Buffy" and "Angel" with hip slang, as well as an unusual (but not overwhelming like the show) amount of Asian inflections. Pith is doled out in large doses and does wonders to create a joyously aloof vibe that is never condescending, but rather leaves the audience feeling as if they are privy to the innermost jokes of a tight-knit clan.
The action sequences are also slickly done. It's evident during the broad mountain chase where the crew elude several Reavers. The pacing is water-tight and expertly handled without resorting to manic editing and sloppy camera handling that we've seen in summer movies like "Stealth." That movie could've done wonders for Jamie Foxx and co. if Joss Whedon took hold of that movie.
Sure, we may have had great sci-fi films like "Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith" and "War of the Worlds." But you have not seen a film in the genre like "Serenity." Not only does Whedon pepper the movie with a lot of witty jokes and up-to-par pacing, but he's made some well-developed characters that the audience can follow. Not many people will like this, especially people who saw "Firefly" and didn't care for it (see several reviews), but for those who need a little craving for smartness in the action/sci-fi genre that several movies haven't delivered, "Serenity" is worth the price of admission.
Posted on 1/10/06 06:53 PM
At his unnamed workplace, Steve Barker (Johnny Knoxville) has been appointed as vice president. One of his jobs was to fire a janitor (Luis Avalos), but instead, he has him do yard work around the house. That doesn't come to swell, however, when an accident robs him of his fingers. Steve does not have the money to help, and to make matters work, his uncle Gary (Brian Cox) owes a lot of gambling money. The uncle comes up with a scheme: rig the Special Olympics and pose as a handicap under the misnomer Jeffy Dahmor. The other athletes find out about Steve's little scheme, but after an explanation that had to be explained for more than 14 minutes, they decide to help train him, thus beating the egotistical Jimmy (Leonard Flowers). But that's not all. He's fallen for Lynn (Katherine Heigl) one of the volunteers of the event.
Boy, this movie is a doozy. A teaser trailer was shown some time ago earlier this year (or was it 2004?). Following that, before the movie was released, it was approved by the real life Special Olympics, because of the decency of how the athletes have been represented. Another thing that comes to mind is the fact that people are comparing "The Ringer" to a "South Park" episode, the name which I forgot. Finally, you've got the Farrely brothers to produce, not direct. All this sums up "The Ringer."
I can see how the majority of the critics are razzing all over this movie. As I mentioned, Peter and Bobby Farrely do not direct this movie, instead they leave it up to "Beyond the Mat" helmer Barry Blaustein. Mr. Blaustein does create a few hilarious moments (especially when Steve tries to adopt the perfect personality), but they aren't of the same quality of anything the Farrelys done ("There's Something About Mary" comes to mind). Some of the oddball attempts don't seem to have the edge (weird that one of the handicapped athletes is capable of using a laptop - maybe he's faking it like Steve is). And there's the romantic subplot, topped off with a cartoonish villain (played by Zen Gesner) who's the boyfriend of Lynn, and is scamming on another woman in the theater where they're playing Dirty Dancing; much like in "Just Friends," the comic cork here is unable to be popped. But at least that movie tried.
But that's not to say that the movie is unfunny. Believe it or not, Blaustein has managed to create an almost likable character out of Johnny Knoxville, who finally plays a normal character for once (I got tired of him channeling Matthew McConaughey in "Dukes of Hazzard"). While he is unable to jump over former Farrely associates, such as Ben Stiller or Jim Carrey, some of his scenes with his co-stars are pretty funny or interesting. Especially with Katherine Higel (of "Grey's Anatomy" fame), whom herself manages to be sweet and charming.
And when the movie requires a scene stealer, leave it up to Brian Cox, coming off the success of "Red Eye." As Gary, the actor keeps Steve on his toes, teaching him how to be a handicap by showing him movies like "Forrest Gump" and "I Am Sam." And he comes off with some smarmy lines (his response to how Steve thinks that the athletes are more fitted to the real Olympics - "Maybe the French team"). Not memorable stuff, but if he can be funny in "Super Troopers", then why not bring it over to this movie?
The rest of the cast includes fine performances from Bill Chot as Thomas, Leonard Earl Howze ("Barbershop") as Mark, and Jed Rees as Glen. Also, there are real-life intellectually challenged people in the movie, including Edward Barbanell and John Taylor. Everyone gets the job done and steals a scene or two, you can't help but like them.
Despite some formula (a sappy final act rescued by an upbeat musical number), "The Ringer" is a really funny comedy, no matter how you slice it. If Knoxville can play likable characters outside of "Jackass"-type scenarios, I'd like to see what he can do next. Too bad one of them is a possible "Dukes of Hazzard" sequel.
Posted on 1/10/06 06:52 PM
Rafi (Uma Thurman) recently came off of a divorce. She is currently seeing her therapist Lisa (Meryl Streep) to discuss about what's going on. One night, she meets up with David (Bryan Greenberg). Eventually, the two hit it off and find out about their age differences - Rafi is 37 and David is 23. Regardless, they hit it off, with Rafi discussing her newfound sex life. However, David is Lisa's son, and when she finds out about it, things go crazy.
Now that the R-rated comedies have come and gone, the conventional PG-13 romantic comedies make a big return. "Prime" is the second of many due out this holiday season (with "Just Like Heaven" being the first). The 1-2-3 punch of its many stars, and the quirky premise, have the potential of making "Prime" one of the biggest sleepers of the fall. However, director Ben Younger falls victim to some major flaws that other movies with great potential run into to.
When the movie starts out, we get introduced to the movie's strong point - the chemistry between the two main characters Rafi and Lisa. During these moments, we get to see the actresses who play them handle their comedic timing with ease. Especially during the moments when Rafi goes through an explicit description of her sex life ("He makes me want to do things that I have never wanted to do" or "We had sex on every surface of my apartment), and the therapist makes some hilarious quote or mugs, which result in the movie's bigger laughs. Streep is funny and Thurman is channeling in a performance a la Cameron Diaz-lite, and it works.
Then there's the romance part, which starts off good. Greenburg manages to charm the audience like Mark Ruffalo done in "Just Like Heaven." Both him and Uma manage to have credible chemistry, even if it ain't really deep most of the time. Surprisingly enough, there's an almost-explicit sex scene the two share, you'd think this movie was rated R. As a matter of fact, that was the movie's original rating, until someone had to mess it up and give it a PG-13 rating. Hey, remember "Wedding Crashers?"
Sadly, Younger faces a similar problem that David Dobkin ("Wedding Crashers") fell ill to: the movie's finale. Somehow, the director fears the audience doesn't care for the characters enough, and he throws in an act where all the laughs are replaced with sentiment. Yet he doesn't know how to end the movie. For example, our lovers break up, then get back together, then break up again. What's worst, by the time the movie's over, we're not given a clue whether or not they get back together. David just looks at Rafi inside a restaurant, they both make cutesy faces, and he leaves. Then the credits roll.
Also, for a movie to have a cast of mostly white actors/actresses, there is an unusual amount of hip-hop in there. That includes "Get Money" by Junior M.A.F.I.A. Another big mistake! Younger, if you want to add some hip-hop tracks, include a black actor or two your cast.
"Prime" is NOT a bad movie. It's got a good "Meet the Parents"-type premise, with Meryl Streep being unusually hilarious. But like all romantic comedies before it, it comes to a screeching halt in the final act, and makes the 105 min. running time feel like a 2-hour epic. Everyone will start laughing at the beginning, then all of a sudden, silence. And the ending, as we mentioned, is the biggest insult. If only Younger stuck to the formula that it worked so well with, we could've had a hit.
Posted on 1/10/06 06:50 PM
Derrick Vann (Samuel L. Jackson) is an ATF agent who's trying to bust a gunrunner named Joey (Luke Goss) who killed his partner. However, problems arise when the gunrunner believes dental salesman Andy Fidler (Eugene Levy) is Derrick. Now, not only must the real Derrick use Andy to take his place, but also deal with his pestering.
This September saw the rebirth of the action-comedy. First came Nick Cannon's "Underclassman," this year's "Beverly Hills Cop", which opened to the worst reviews this year and limited theaters (which explains the disapppointing b.o.). Meanwhile, director Les Mayfield, who's directed several bad movies ("American Outlaws"), brings us a buddy action-comedy in the style of "Midnight Run", working with two legendary stars. The twist is that unlike the Nick Cannon bomb, "The Man" drops unfunny racial jokes for something much better.
"The Man" works because of its two stars. Jackson assumes the role of Derrick Vann with his usual slick-talking charisma, mixed up with some Leslie Nielsen's deadpan mannerisms. As a matter of fact, if Levy's several flatulence scenes were done alone, it would've fell flat on its feet and put the audience to sleep. Sure, Jackson may be pushing his "BMF" into the red zone quite a few times, but like in "Loaded Weapon 1", he's able to lift as much material off the ground when it crashes.
Levy, best known for playing Jason Bigg's on-screen father in "American Pie", not to mention starring in every Christopher Guest movie, is on the same boat too. He helps make jokes that would seem second-rate go up a notch. His winning scene comes during midway into the movie when his character refers to Vann as "his bitch." Other scenes he takes is when he gets shot in the ass and cures his pain with taco sauce, getting stuck in prison with nothing but female criminals, teaching Vann how to limit his swearing, whizzing in the pool, and pissing the agent off when he loses half a million dollars which were supposed to be show money. Like with Jackson, his ambiance helps lift the movie whenever something falls flat.
Sure, "The Man" is not perfect all the time. Like I said before, whenever Jackson and Levy are together on screen, they click. But whenever they're apart, that's when things go into the red zone. Jackson doesn't bring his subtle, in-your-face wisecracks from previous movies (his scenes with an informant are unfunny - it's all a tyrade of cussing that isn't even funny). And then there's the subplot where he reunites with his ex-wife and daughter, which is slightly funny when they bring up the wife's new man. But the movie ends, and we don't know the outcome of their future (same problem with "Midnight Run"). So it's just a pointless addition.
A bigger disappointment is the finale. I won't go in too far, but Mayfield felt the need to throw in a John Woo-type face-off (no pun intended). In a movie like this, it feels highly unnecessary.
But with all said and done, "The Man" is not that bad a movie as people are saying. Jackson and Levy make such an interesting odd couple, you'd wonder why they didn't do this kind of movie in the first place.
Posted on 1/10/06 06:46 PM
Yuri Orlov (Nicolas Cage) was born in the Soviet Union, but was raised in Brooklyn, New York. The only way he can achieve the American dream is to go into arms dealing along with his brother Vitaly (Jared Leto). As well as landing the girl of his dreams (Bridget Moynahan), Yuri is pursued by Interpol agent Valentine (Ethan Hawke). Not long into the business, his brother becomes addicted to cocaine, his wife concerned about what her husband is doing, and a sudden change of conscience.
Whenever you think of Nicolas Cage, you think of the posterchild for every action film that was produced by Jerry Bruckheimer (or directed by John Woo) and lived off the spoils of. This probably inspired Andrew Niccol (of "Gattaca" and "The Truman Show" fame) to snag the actor into "Lord of War," an action thriller/satire based on real life events (wow, no wonder our world's messed up). While this movie is carried well by another good performance by Cage and his co-stars, something about "LOW" is seriously lacking.
The movie chronicles the two decades of Yuri's fascination with guns: how he first witnessed its power, his dealing with major buyers (one of them played to crazy perfection by Eamonn Walker of "Oz" fame), his love of his family, his confrontations with Interpol, and plenty more that I don't want to give out. A good scene is where, in time-lapse photography, citizens of Sierra Leone tear apart the plane for 24 hours before the Interpol agents come back for him.
Before Nicolas Cage can play it safe with the anticipated comedy-drama "The Weather Man," he has gone back to playing a role that he's perfected for quite some time, even if he doesn't go all that crazy like he did in "Face/Off" or "The Rock" before it. But his portrayal of Yuri is charismatic, well-collected, and even sympathetic in the later parts of the movie. Even if the other leads do their job well, this IS Cage's movie, and he handles everything like you'd expect he would.
Speaking of the other leads, there are plenty of good and bad. The good ones come in the form of "Alexander" survivor Jared Leto, who plays Yuri's brother. Leto manages to get some decent scenes during the time when his character becomes hooked on drugs. Sadly, Bridget Moynahan is a bit of a pain to sit through, and the chemistry between her and Cage isn't fully exploited. But Eamonn Walker manages to steal some scenes, especially when he asks for the gun of Rambo (he only asks for the gun of part I).
A crime that "Lord of War" commits is the abandonment of the humorous side after Yuri takes a break from gun dealing. Soon as that happens, satire takes a seat back for the main character to lose everything near and dear to him, including his family. It drags down especially when Yuri gets screwed over by his wife and caught by Valentine. It's a shame, because "War" had some funny moments.
All that aside, "Lord of War" is a welcome return for Cage after mixed receptions to the Bruckheimer adventure "National Treasure." With its unusual mixture of biting satire and political thrills, it's gets an A for effort thanks to Niccol. It could get us riled up for Nic's other anticipated project: the big-screen adaptation of the Marvel comic "Ghost Rider".
Posted on 1/10/06 06:42 PM
Set in the Depression Era, just like the original before it, struggling filmmaker Carl Denham (Jack Black) is in hot water with his studio. Determined to get his project in the can, he asks the help of another struggling individual, actress Ann Darrow (Naomi Watts). At first, she seems reluctant, but overhearing that her idol, playwright Jack Driscoll (Adrien Brody), she joins along. The project is set to be filmed on Skull Island, which is home to some ruthless natives and dinosaurs who don't take kindly to trespassers. The natives kidnap Ann, and summon the mighty King Kong (voiced by Andy Serkis, the voice of Gollum from "The Lord of the Rings"), who takes her away from danger. Fighting past the prehistoric, Kong and Ann develop an attraction. But the film crew captures the mighty ape and bring it to New York to make millions, which leads to a mindblowing climax.
All fitting for 180 minutes? You bet.
Rarely do remakes of movies do any good. They're handed to incompetent directors (including Rupert Wainwright, who did the remake of "The Fog"), and it's a sheer bore, reminding us to stick to the original. But then you get directors like Steven Spielberg, who directed the underrated, but highly-grossed, remake of "War of the Worlds." The trend continues, as three-time Oscar winning director Peter Jackson, who had a three-way winning streak with "The Lord of the Rings," brings a cult favorite movie of his to the big screen. Here, he switches gears and moves from the medieval to 1930's New York City and beyond. And just like "WOTW," this remake of "King Kong" is another winner for Jackson.
As we said before, "KK" clocks in at 180 freakin' minutes, 80 more than the 1933 original (and the theater did not pause for intermission, thank God!). Jackson stages three acts per hour - act one is the intro to our heroes, act two is a battle on Skull Island, and the finale is a recreation of the battle atop the Empire State Building. With trusted CGI effects on his side, the director makes sure no one is rolling their eyes or ready to fall asleep.
The recreation of the Depression Era is dead on. First, we have a collection of quirky characters (including Andy Serkis who appears briefly as a grotesque cook named Lumpy - fitting) and a variety of nostalgia (automobiles, coats, hats, music, etc.). Kudos to Jackson for not updating this movie to be set today, especially since 9/11, we wouldn't want to see today's world get terrorized. And for someone not from America, he sure revels in its broad culture.
The action sequences are extraordinary. The only problem is the drug-out battle against the creatures in the wilderness - the dinos and bugs - but when it comes to the finale, Jackson doesn't let up. Like in "Sky Captain," the almost-CGI-rendered New York city is beautiful and ripe for destruction from the big ape. And this version of King Kong is beautifully reinvisioned in its modern glory, which will erase memories of the original's campy look.
And let's not forget about the humans. The leads - Jack Black, Naomi Watts, and Adrien Brody - have all starred in stinkers earlier this or past year (Black in "Envy," Watts in "The Ring 2," and Brody in "The Jacket"). Here, they jump back in the game. Watts gets the most attention, as her portrayal of Ann benefits the movie's heart. Black turns in a pitch-perfect serious, and sometimes humorous, performance as the megalomaniacal director Carl. But while Brody doesn't contribute a hell of a lot through the movie (there's a romance with him and Watts, and it just isn't referenced later, even if this is about the love between the ape and Ann), he manages to make Jack likable enough.
Top it all of with a familiar line from the original ("It wasn't the airplanes; beauty killed the beast.") and a great score from James Newtwon Howard, and you've got "King Kong" served in a nutshell. I smell another Golden Globe win for Mr. Jackson, and hopefully he'll jump on board to direct "Halo."
Posted on 1/10/06 06:40 PM
Architech David Abbott (Mark Ruffalo) has been dumped by one of his flames, so he finds himself by himself in a new apartment. However, it's not too far there that he sees the ghost of a nurse named Elizabeth (Reese Witherspoon). Her story is that she was going home to meet someone, but was involved in a car accident. Elizabeth gets on David's nerves, but she finds out that David is the only one who could see her. Not only that, but she finds out her sister Abby (Dina Waters) willingly signs the paper to pull the plug on Liz's unconscious body.
Many of you know Reese Witherspoon from her claim to fame, "Legally Blonde," her first foray into the world of broad comedy. Her goofy, yet spirited performance nailed her a Golden Globe nomination, as well as a post-"LB" filmography filled with romantic comedies. "Just Like Heaven" is one of them. This time, she's paired up with now-comic pro Mark Ruffalo. So, with the R-rated romantic comedy revived last summer, will people come back to PG-13 fluff?
Like in "Legally Blonde," Ms. Witherspoons' character never takes herself seriously (she considers herself a whore at one point), while still making sure the audience is still rooting for her. Ruffalo, who grew a comedy structure after working with Jennifer Garner, brings his A game to the table, and gets some really funny scenes (such as at the bar when Liz takes over his body before he can drink vodka - classic). Thrown into the mix are Donal Logue, and a surprise cameo by Jon "Napoleon Dynamite" Heder, who gets to chew up scenery as stoner psychic Darryl. It's a shame he doesn't stay for the whole show, as when it goes back to the main characters, mainly during the end, it falls flat.
The finale takes away the film's credibility of being a possibly decent romantic comedy and turns it into an over-the-top sapfest. Early signs do show earlier in the movie when Liz finds out David is still brooding over his lost love, and well, it somehow doesn't feel right enough. It's a shame, because both Witherspoon and Ruffalo have a credible chemistry that could've been taken more advantage of if the director could've added more humorous pratfalls.
This is not a bad movie. But because I loved last summer's "Wedding Crashers" and "The 40 Year Old Virgin," I wasn't too overall impressed with this. Basically, Waters should have kept the movie funny until the end.
Posted on 1/10/06 06:37 PM
It's X-mas, and Kansas City mob lawyer Charlie Arglist (John Cusack) and porno owner Vic Cavanaugh (Billy Bob Thornton) have embezzled $2 million from mob boss Bill Guerrard (Randy Quaid). However, Bill has sent his hit-man Roy Gelles (Mike Starr) to do whatever necessary to get all that money back. And Charlie runs into plenty of trouble: a hottie stripper (Connie Nielsen), his drunk friend Pete (Oliver Platt), and Vic's hidden agenda.
Harold Ramis has been out of the picture after "Analyze That," the disappointing sequel to the classic original "Analyze This." This year, he comes back with a vengeance, and switches gear from goofy slapstick comedies to a dark and twisted comedy-thriller. And with John Cusack back in the role of leading man after "Must Love Dogs," "Ice Harvest" is devilishly funny and keeps you guessing, even if a bit too much (but not like "Double Take").
Ramis has the environment down. His view of Kansas City is mostly set at nighttime, and rarely has any color to it, except for black, blue, and white. There are plenty of X-mas songs that play in the background (including one from The Chipmunks, very sharp move, Harry) to help the X-mas background stick out. And, for the first time in a Ramis film, there's a lot of suspense and guesses, like who's on the take. It does get a little convoluted, but the simple-to-follow story structure makes it enjoyable.
The cast manages to good with their roles. Cusack portrays his character like Rob Gordon in "High Fidelity" - an deadpan, depressed individual looking for more in life, as well as mourning his breakup with his wife. Thornton, more restrained than in "Bad Santa" and "Bad News Bears," makes his character likable and funny enough, even if he's not in it for long. And Nielsen, surprisingly, delivers a good standout role as the object of Charlie's affection who may not be what she seems. Quaid embraces his villainous mob boss with bravado, even if his screen time is very short.
But the scene stealer of this movie is Oliver Platt, well-casted. His portrayal of Charlie's drunken buddy Pete is the source of the movie's belly laughs. Those belly especially come when he gets into it with a guy outside the bar, and he gets a hit below the belt. Really funny stuff. Shame that Ramis' didn't keep him in the movie for long, because "Harvest" starts to drag around the end.
Despite all that, "Ice Harvest" is the long-awaited, and greatly appreciated, return of Harold Ramis directing again. The casting is top notch (Platt is the movie's best casting choice), the plot structure is easy to get into, and you won't feel dirty after having a good laugh. Welcome back, Ramis. That three year departure was worth it.