'Thin Ice' (R)

 

Would-be wintry noir is big on cliches and short on originality.

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By Rene Rodriguez | rrodriguez@MiamiHerald.com

In Fargo, a car salesman in snowy Minnesota hatches a scheme to make some quick cash that leads to a body count. In Thin Ice, an insurance salesman in snowy Wisconsin hatches a scheme to make some quick cash that leads to a body count. I haven’t watched Fargo in a few years, but I still remember almost every scene. I saw Thin Ice two nights ago and cannot in all honesty tell you how it ends.

This is the third film directed by Jill Sprecher (Clockwatchers, Thirteen Conversations about One Thing), who also co-wrote the script with her usual collaborator (and sister) Karen. Their previous two movies were small but personal and distinct, marked by a unique authorial voice. Thin Ice is familiar and generic, a pastiche of film noirs that often reminds you of other pictures — there’s a lot of Sam Raimi’s A Simple Plan here, too — but doesn’t generate a single memorable moment of its own.

To be fair, Sprecher has disowned Thin Ice, which was titled The Convincer and ran almost 30 minutes longer when it premiered at Sundance last year. Distributor ATO Pictures recut and retitled the film without Sprecher’s input (she even tried to have her name removed from the credits). This might explain some of the movie’s more heavy-handed touches, such as a voiceover narration at the start of the film, which sounds like it was tacked-on at the last minute, warning us to “believe none of what you hear and only half of what you see.” In other words, the first thing you hear in Thin Ice is a gigantic spoiler.

Greg Kinnear plays Mickey, a wily salesman whose impending divorce and flagging business have left him desperately short on cash. Alan Arkin is the absent-minded farmer who doesn’t realize the violin he owns may be worth a fortune. You can probably guess where this is going, although the movie tries to misdirect you with lots of sleight-of-hand plot detours that might have gone unnoticed if that narrator hadn’t warned you right from the beginning that Things Are Not What They Seem.

The result is that you can’t help but pay a little extra attention to that enthusiastic new salesman (David Harbour) Kinnear hires, or notice the curious way his estranged wife (Lea Thompson) discovers his adultery and how quickly that shady locksmith (Billy Crudup) resorts to violence. A big part of the appeal of movies like Thin Ice is seeing how far otherwise ordinary people will go once they’ve crossed a moral line. But you need to be invested in their fate, at least just a little, in order for the film to work.

Kinnear is good at portraying Mickey’s snaky disposition and manipulative nature: He’s an unredeemable worm, and the actor does not try to endear himself to us in any way, which is admirable but also self-defeating. Thin Ice is the story of a jerk surrounded by tricksters and con artists playing games on him. Where’s the fun in that?

Cast: Greg Kinnear, Alan Arkin, Billy Crudup, David Harbour, Bob Balaban, Lea Thompson.

Director: Jill Sprecher.

Screenwriter: Jill Sprecher, Karen Sprecher.

Producer: Mary Frances Budig, Elizabeth Redleaf, Christine K. Walker.

An ATO Pictures release. Running time: 93 minutes. Vulgar language, brief violence, gore, adult themes. Opens Friday Feb. 17 in Miami-Dade: Sunset Place, Intracoastal; in Broward: Paradise, Sunrise; in Palm Beach: Living Room, Shadowood, Delray, Palace.

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