It’s Christmas Eve in chilly Wichita, Kan. But besides wishing his fellow loners at the local strip club a merry Christmas, that means little to Charlie Arglist, a mob lawyer whose holiday cheer involves embezzling $2,147,000 from Kansas City gangster Bill Guerrard. The often-trepid Charlie and his sleazy associate, Vic Cavenaugh, plan to lay low for a few hours and then skip town on their way to heist heaven.
Easier said than done. Unable to conceal his nervousness, Charlie fumbles his way around town and piques the suspicions of strip-club owner/love interest Renata, who’s involved in a scandal of her own and alerts him of the mob’s presence. Meanwhile, Vic seems to look less like a partner in crime and more like a backstabber with each passing hour.
Though set at Christmastime, The Ice Harvest is about as far removed from the Christmas spirit as a story can get. Sure, we get artsy up-close screen shots of a nativity scene outside a Lutheran church. Vic mentions going to a midnight worship service, and “Silent Night” is sung. We’re even told that it’s God’s birthday. But in combination with the unseasonably foul content, these are merely used for contrasting effect against this twisted plot and even more perverse characters.
Charlie’s incessantly drunk friend, Pete, hits on a bartender whom he calls a “nekkid little Christian” and a “Jesus freak.” When the girl’s boyfriend drags him outside, Pete says he’s being passive like Jesus. (He also offers an extremely offensive, sexual take on Campus Crusade for Christ’s name.) Vic recites a slaughtered rendition of the Lord’s Prayer while staring death in the face. Bill says his father wanted him to be a preacher and “let Jesus pay for the mortgage.” Charlie describes Wichita as a town “full of good Christian people—most of whom are in this bar trying to get laid.”
In what seems to be a staple for hard-R movies these days, a clip from a porn video gets screen time. (We're forced to see and hear a fully nude man and woman having sex.) A scandalous photograph of another couple caught in the act appears several times. Strippers—of which there are plenty in this flick—appear completely naked and frequently make explicit sexual motions. A couple of pornographic pinups adorn the walls of an adult bookstore, and a store sign depicts a topless woman. Other women appear in g-strings and skimpy tops. A woman propositions a man with oral sex, and he begins to unzip his pants.
As if visuals weren’t enough, The Ice Harvest is also consumed by sexual dialogue. A drunken Pete talks explicitly about manual stimulation, oral sex and sex with strippers. During one scene, he sits on the ground with his pants off and rambles on about his genitals. He also admits to Charlie that he had an affair with Charlie’s ex-wife while they were still married, then adds insult to injury by recounting all the various places and times they engaged in sex. (Charlie somehow doesn’t seem fazed by this and simply wonders who his ex-wife is sleeping with now.) Pete continues with the smuttiness by fantasizing out loud about a female bartender being naked.
Several characters get shot in the forehead, chest, face and back, and we see bullet holes and oozing blood for each hit. During one scuffle, a man’s face is blown off with a shotgun. Though the camera pans away for the impact, it doesn’t miss the blood spattering across the wall and onto a woman. It also doesn’t fail to get an up-close angle when a man is stabbed in the foot with a knife. Blood drips from a woman shot in the head. A detached, bloodied thumb is twice shown. A knife runs across Charlie’s throat, drawing blood.
A strip-club bartender pins a man down for roughing up a stripper, then seemingly breaks his finger (we hear his cries for mercy). Another patron tackles an old man, which leads the bartender to club the patron across the back of his head. Pete gets dragged out of a bar, then is kicked in the crotch. Besides being shot at several times, Charlie accidentally hits his head on a road sign and later gets hit by an RV. He also tosses a corpse into a lake. Vic whacks his dead wife’s head on a car while trying to put her in it. After stuffing a man into a trunk, he smashes at the trunk lid with a crowbar and later fires a bullet into it to silence the man. Bill gets in a scuffle with Renata, at one point throwing her across the room.
Drug and Alcohol Content
Charlie drinks in virtually every scene—in the car (while driving), at a restaurant, at the strip club, walking down the street, in a gas station, etc. Joining him in downing the hard stuff is his buddy Pete, who is drunk throughout the story. “I’m looking for that last drink to get me to that perfect stage of drunkenness,” he brags. The pair—along with several other characters—drink what seems to be an endless supply of beer, rum, scotch, whiskey and various other liquors. (Unlike Pete, Charlie never seems to get drunk despite drinking the night away.) Charlie and Vic smoke.
Other Negative Elements
Despite catching him with alcohol in the car and knowing he's been drinking, a policeman lets Charlie off. Charlie mentions that his alcoholic, womanizing uncle gambled all his possessions away.
During a confrontation, a teenager accuses his father of being a liar and tells him to “go to hell.” Though we don’t see the action, we learn that Vic allowed his wife to be shot in order to apprehend a man. He also seems glad that she’s dead. Two men urinate during separate scenes. Pete and Charlie vomit.
Certain movies disappoint when a star-studded cast is handed a dud of a script. Other films loaded with prime actors simply astound by reveling in vile material. The Ice Harvest excels at doing both.
With nary a likeable character, this largely unfunny flick from Harold Ramis (who’s been behind such cult comedies as Analyze This, Analyze That, Groundhog Day, National Lampoon’s Vacation and Caddyshack) isn’t just disappointing, it’s downright despicable. Rather than play up the potential laughs and drama of a getaway-gone-wrong on Christmas Eve, Ramis focuses the camera—and keeps it there—on nude strippers, cold-blooded murderers and perverted drunks. The decision-makers behind The Ice Harvest, Ramis among them, have crossed the line between offering shoddy entertainment and purely offensive smut. And they've done so brazenly, setting this dark story at Christmastime and marketing it as a holiday comedy.