Thin Ice (2012) - Can't Stop the Movies
Can't Stop the Movies

Thin Ice (2012)

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My first attempt at writing a review of Thin Ice ended in a nearly endless stream of cursing.  Since I try for a kind of criticism that goes above the usual strain of internet commentary of random poop-fart yelling humor I found my own efforts distasteful.  Then I realized it was this cut of the film which encouraged and brought out this horrible side of me, and I felt a little better.

Still, when all is said and the books are thrown, I try to be as evenhanded as possible.  Keeping that in focus,  I can’t bring myself to completely hate Thin Ice, even though I mostly hate it.  Call it the Darth Vader styled hatred, the knowledge going into Return of the Jedi that he has been a total bastard for two films but managed to birth Luke Skywalker.  This, and not my constant stream of sexual inference in films, will go as the nerdiest thing I’ve written to date on this site.   If you feel as though you can prove me wrong please send me your thoroughly researched inventory of my works and point out moments which I have been nerdier.

No moments where I’ve professed love for Dwayne Johnson, thank you.

But all this is a distraction from the task at hand and the movie presented to me.  The bastardized, blatantly commercial, toothless version of the film which has been lain before me, overdone narration and all.  Then somewhere within me wells the overwhelming spirit of Blade Runner, echoing “There was a timeless film within me, the narration just needed to die.”  I'm being a bit generous, but one or two edits later and Thin Ice might have been salvageable.  Too bad they didn’t allow the director any say in this.

I’m not going to forgive writer / director Jill Sprecher for everything, especially the way the film plays as a sub-Fargo.  You have the dark moral conundrums in the winter, the attempts at nihilistic body humor, and the panicky protagonist who can’t seem to catch a break.  The only difference is that Fargo positioned its characters in the Dakota’s, where interesting personalities can erupt.  Thin Ice puts its characters in the Midwest, and the painful doldrums associated with living there are as blandly presented on their faces as the landscape is.

The plot involves the not-William H. Macy trope played by Greg Kinnear trying to scheme an old man (Alan Arkin) out of his $25,000 violin.  I did like that the stakes were so low that even in the realm of film fiction $25,000 is a lot of money, especially considering most plots involve six zeros or more.  But the low stakes become inevitably intertwined in shady deeds of friends poking in at the wrong time and a possible pair of murders.  The details of any twist come late in the film during a completely unfair revelatory sequence that reveals everything by adding absolutely nothing.  Hell, even the credits twist in the nearly softcore Wild Things let the strongest female cast member subvert the erotic thriller somewhat.

I suppose there is a clever element in play by having everyone being such a boring product of the Midwest that they can’t escape their background, but it didn’t make for a fun film.  Watching Kinnear, who has turned into the poor man’s Rob Lowe in a disturbing turnaround, try to sweat and lie his way out of multiple insurance schemes with that bland resignation it loses any drive.  Worse still, as much as Kinnear is channeling William H. Macy, we have other actors coming in doing their best impersonation of actors in other thrillers.

Arkin is the only one who gets away lucky, playing a sad and easily confused old man with the kind of oblivious pathos and love for his dog that makes it nearly impossible not to like him.  But then there’s Billy Crudup doing a Joaquin Phoenix impersonation circa Clay Pigeons, followed shortly by a pale imitation of John C. Reilly with David Harbour, and Lea Thompson playing every put-upon lover in any thriller in existence.

The caricatures play on while the film stutters away with its own insane rhythm and concept of what should be funny.  Certain scenes play out like a David Lynch take on a student comedy film, stretching the dialogue punchline beyond the delivery point.  Those same scenes, nary a cut later, are explosions of sudden violence in the Tarantino tradition.  All the while a comical score toys with the characters, focusing on goofy horns at all the wrong somber moments.  It’s one of those films which could have been a nearly brilliant anti-comedy if the craft weren’t completely off, and that’s what brings us to the editing and why director Jill Sprecher isn’t to blame.

Years ago she made a wonderfully elliptical drama called 13 Conversations About One Thing.  What I’m gathering from Thin Ice is that we should see Kinnear’s insurance salesman as pathetic, but we end up getting him at the center of a bad series of near-slapstick mishaps.  This is because she was not invited to the editing room when she was told to speed up the plot a bit, and for anyone whose experienced Midwest doldrums the plot never speeds up here.

The obvious debt to Fargo can never be reconciled, but I can see how these performances would work in a different setting.  With less broad humor this could be a timely display of how the common man can’t make it in today’s economy.  This is not too far off from her first film, Clockwatchers, which was as much about apathetic excess as this nearly is about the necessity of dreaming small to get by.   Still, that was a different film with a different title (The Convincer).

But this is the film we have, not the film anyone else wishes they could have had.  And it’s bad.  Really bad.  So it’s time to forget it now.

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Thin Ice (2012)

Directed by Jill Sprecher.
Screenplay written by Jill and Karen Sprecher.
Starring Greg Kinnear and Billy Crudup.

Posted by Andrew

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