‘Thin Ice’ is aptly named
Sometimes a movie won’t pull itself together no matter what you do. “Thin Ice,” a fitfully amusing comedy of Middle American bad manners, initially surfaced at Sundance 2011 as “The Convincers,” after which the distributor took the film away from director Jill Sprecher for substantial re-edits and a new musical score. I feel for Sprecher, but having seen both versions, I’m hard-pressed to tell you what the difference is. Either way, the movie never fully clicks.
It does have Greg Kinnear as a glad-handing cad, a niche he fills like few other actors. His character, Mickey Prohaska, is a Kenosha, Wis., insurance salesman whose line of patter has dried up and who’s fooling no one but himself. Happily ethics-free, he poaches a younger salesman (David Harbour) from a rival and cheats on his wife (an underused Lea Thompson) at a sales convention. Why would you want to spend time with this guy? Because Kinnear’s beady eyes reveal that Mickey’s not nearly as smart as he thinks he is. Comeuppance has to be at hand.
And so it is. The new salesman gets a lead on an aging farmer, Gorvy Hauer (Alan Arkin), who turns out to have a valuable antique violin just lying around the house. The violin is the movie’s MacGuffin — the thing everyone wants and no one can quite keep his hands on — and Mickey’s plans to profit by the farmer’s senility unravel into misunderstanding and mayhem.
For a while, it’s all terribly droll; when Bob Balaban arrives on the scene as a fussy little luthier, “Thin Ice” threatens to become very dry ice indeed. Then the movie takes a hard left turn into bloody farce with the appearance of Billy Crudup as Randy, a short-tempered and possibly psychotic alarm-systems technician who becomes Mickey’s unwanted partner in crime. Crudup’s a talented performer, obviously, but he kidnaps the film’s second half with an aggressively over-the-top portrayal that a stronger director could have and should have reined in.
Also, it has to be asked: Alan Arkin as a Wisconsin farmer? You can take the actor out of New York but you can’t take the New York out of this actor. Arkin’s vocal inflections alone convey the snappish impatience of an Upper West Sider confronting idiots at the deli.
In other words, the problems with “Thin Ice” aren’t anything an editor could fix. Tonal inconsistencies and escalating absurdities are baked right into the script. Sprecher wrings a nice sense of defeatism from the snow-clogged landscapes — even nature appears to have thrown in the towel — and there’s a climactic twist that makes sense of everything about 20 minutes after you’ve stopped caring. But it’s hard to avoid the conclusion that this is a “Fargo” retread that just doesn’t go very far.