Friday, March 23, 2012

Scamming On THIN ICE

Now playing in Raleigh at the Colony Theater:

(Dir. Jill Sprecher, 2011) 

This film starts out in an insurance salesman convention world much like that of CEDAR RAPIDS, then travels through the icy murderous terrain of FARGO, winding up in an elaborate con-job scenario reminiscent of MATCHSTICK MEN.

A money-grubbing Wisconsin insurance agent (Greg Kinnear), on the outs from his wife (Lea Thompson), plots to steal a extremely valuable vintage violin from an old senile client (Kinnear’s LITTLE MISS SUNSHINE co-star Alan Arkin).

As you probably guessed, the scheme doesn’t go smoothly, especially since a burglar-alarm technician/ex-con (Billy Crudup) gets involved, and somebody gets killed.

Crudup takes a Polaroid of Kinnear with the body so he can blackmail him into disposing of it through a fishing hole in a frozen lake. Then it turns out the violin is worth more than the $30,000 Kinnear initially thought - it’s appraised by an antique musical instrument dealer (a perfectly cast Bob Balaban) at 1.2 million. This can only make these greedy unlikable people greedier and more unlikable.

Kinnear has got the desperate slime-ball shtick down, and Crudup fills out the ticks of his, also morally challenged, character nicely, but the all too familiar thriller mechanics keep the film from really taking hold.

It also doesn’t help that composer Jeff Danna cribs from Carter Burwell’s FARGO soundtrack; the comparisons to that Coen Brothers classic can only call out the faults of THIN ICE.

The film was originally titled “The Convincer,” but it was re-cut and re-titled to director and co-writer Sprecher’s chagrin. I’d love to see the original version, because there’s a considerable amount of promise in this material. 

I seriously suspect that the short choppy scenes that make up much of the movie are the result of studio interference and that Sprecher’s cut handled the narrative much better, and possibly achieved more of a connection to the characters. Of course, that’s just speculation, or wishful thinking.

As it stands now, THIN ICE goes by briskly but with little impact. It’s a competent scam movie, but it’ll only con you into thinking you’re having a good time.

In the moment you may feel entertained, but afterwards you’re left with only memories of other movies.

More later...

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