Wednesday, February 15, 2012

The Sprecher sisters, Jill and Karen, skate on THIN ICE -- then tumble into the water

Movie-lovers enjoy being manipulated. Look at the huge success of (and the love so many of us feel for) The Usual Suspects. Or The Sting. But along with that manipulation must come a movie that merits it, that holds us fast, if not furiously, as it tells its tale -- comically, dramatically, mysteriously, whatever -- so long as it tells that tale well. THIN ICE, the new film directed and co-written (with sister Karen Sprecher) by Jill Sprecher, delivers one of the most manipulative scenarios in recent memory. You may want to rent the DVD as soon as possible after watching the film, just to sign off on the numerous surprise plot-points as each is revealed  -- lickety-split, one tumbling over the next -- at the finale. Unfortunately the movie that precedes this big-time revelation is pretty much dead in the (ice) water.

Ms. Sprecher, shown at right, who gave us the interesting Clockwatchers some fifteen years ago, following it with the also interesting (but, yes, manipulative) Thirteen Conversations About One Thing in 2001, has now made a movie that almost fits into a genre. You might, if your were so inclined, call Thin Ice a black comedy, though it is missing most of its humor. You could also, thanks to the excellent work of Alan Arkin and Billy Crudup, call it a character study (because of the odd and enticing roles these two fine actors play). You might also call it a thriller because, well, hell, there's a murder and a robbery and a dog-napping and more.

And then there's Greg Kinnear -- one of my favorite American actors -- who is on-screen almost all the time in this movie. And he's boring. After all the really excellent work this under-rated actor has given us -- from As Good As It Gets to Auto-FocusThe Matador, Flash of Genius and the recent Salvation Blvd. -- it is a shock to see him appearing so, well, bland. That may be what Ms Sprecher imagined was called for, because Kinnear seems to have tamped down all the little quirks-done-subtly that usually make him interesting and fun to watch. But the movie's missing more than this. It's the tone that's wrong. Or, rather, the tone simply isn't there. (It's not even deadpan: Two of the three performances are way too strong for that.) The movie isn't really funny, or dramatic, or exciting, or mysterious. It's just a kind of off-and-on hodge-podge of all those things. (The single funniest moment comes in a bank and features a bag of coins.)

This may be due to the fact that, in truth, the particular genre to which Thin Ice belongs is one that does not play easily with other genres. (And I can't even tell you what the main genre is without giving too much of the game away.) In any case, it would take something more of a stylist than is Ms Sprecher to provide a slick enough entertainment to turn the movie into more than mere last-minute revelations. The film does, however, provide the opportunity for Crudup (above, right) and Arkin (below right) to create memorable characters from whom we cringe (in the first instance) and kvell in the second. Crudup, a fine actor who is seldom warm enough to win us over, goes for broke in the opposite direction, scaring us (along with Kinnear's character) nearly to death.

Arkin, on the other hand, seems to be channeling both his "Oscar"-winning grandpa from Little Miss Sunshine and his excellent work as Robin Wright's husband in the more recent and under-seen The Private Lives of Pippa Lee to create quite an original character that just keeps surprising us. These two performances, coupled to that finale, may be enough to make Thin Ice sturdy enough for you to sit through. I found it overly manipulative and ultimately disappointing. The movie, from ATO Pictures, opens fairly wide for an independent film this Friday, February 17, in a number of major cities around the country -- including New York and Los Angeles. Click here to see a complete listing of cities, theaters and playdates for this week and the weeks to come.

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