THE ICE ROAD (2021)

June 24, 2021

Greetings again from the darkness. Somehow, it’s already time for Liam Neeson’s semi-annual macho thriller. In this one, he gets to drive a big rig. Over a frozen river. He also gets to wear flannel, chew on a toothpick, and punch two guys (but no wolves) … all while doing the right thing in order to save some trapped miners. And it’s not about the money. Well, it starts out about the money, but in the end, it’s not about the money!

Neeson stars as Mike, a trucker whose spotty employment record is likely as much his own doing as it is that of his brother John/”Gurtie” (Marcus Thomas), who is not just a super mechanic, but also a war veteran with some mental challenges. The VA hospital quickly diagnoses Gurtie with PTSD and prescribes multiple pills for him. Mike tosses out accusations and the pills, as the two brothers head to Winnipeg for a rescue mission.

Jonathan Hensleigh also wrote and directed the 2011 film KILL THE IRISHMAN which I enjoyed. This time he serves up some nice opening shots that give us a real feel for the isolation and frozen tundra of the setting. When the mine collapses, trapping the workers, the oxygen clock starts, and Goldenrod (Laurence Fishburne) is charged with finding 2 other available and experienced truckers who can drive over the ice road and deliver the necessary equipment within 30 hours. Mike and Gurtie are chosen for one truck, and Tantoo (Amber Midthunder, “Legion”) is chosen for the other. She has extra incentive, as her brother Cody (Martin Sensmeier, WIND RIVER, 2017) is one of the trapped miners.

We do get brief segments with the miners, including Cody and Lampard (Holt McCallany, “Mindhunter”) who are focused on saving as many men as possible. Of course, all of this is the fault of yet another big, bad corporation led by a profit-oriented GM (Matt McCoy, known by “Seinfeld” fans as Lloyd Braun). Along for the ride with the truckers is Varnay (Benjamin Walker, ABRAHAM LINCOLN: VAMPIRE HUNTER, 2016), introduced as an insurance actuarial. And yes, there’s more to his story.

If you’ve ever seen “Ice Road Truckers” on the History Channel, you have some idea what’s about to occur. Thrills, chills, and unforeseen obstacles come at a rapid-fire pace … as if driving 75,000 pounds on 30 inches of slowly melting ice-covered rivers wasn’t enough. This is a wild movie, so expect even more. The bobbleheads on the dash aren’t just good luck charms, and everyone isn’t who they seem. Big companies who cut corners and those who don’t treat vets properly are the targets here, but it’s to be enjoyed as a frigid and perilous rescue mission – and one more chance for Liam Neeson to prove he’s a man’s man.

Available on Netflix beginning June 25, 2021

WATCH THE TRAILER


THE CHOICE (2016)

February 4, 2016

the choice Greetings again from the darkness. When the word formulaic is used to describe a movie or book, it’s typically meant as a disparagement. We must admit, however, that if the formula works, it only makes sense (and dollars) to stick with it. Most Hollywood blockbuster franchises are built around a basic formula – superheroes, romantic-comedies, alien invasions, etc. Author Nicholas Sparks (The Notebook) has taken his tragic-romance novel formula and turned it into big screen gold. This is the eleventh film developed from his writing, and it’s likely to be another successful entry into the Sparks canon.

Director Ross Katz (Adult Beginners, 2015) is at the helm of the screenplay by Bryan Sipe (upcoming Demolition) and many of the familiar Sparks features are present. First off, the key players are all exceedingly attractive – Ralph Lauren model attractive. Secondly, there is a will they/won’t they romance that will of course happen and then may fall apart, but probably won’t. And third, some type of tragedy will occur that will kick off a stream of tears from a certain segment of the audience.

This one begins with a narrator’s humble-brag promising to tell us the “secret of life”. That narrator is Travis, played with an over-flowing abundance of southern charm by Benjamin Walker (Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, 2012). His main vices are a tendency to use “damn” to the point of overkill in most every conversation, and his natural ability to attract the ladies. Oh, and he has a rescue dog and a lake house and he is a veterinarian. See, in the Sparks universe, everyone is beautiful and successful. Travis has his eye on his new neighbor, who is pretending to be annoyed but mostly admits to playing a game of hard-to-get. This is Gabby (Teresa Palmer, Warm Bodies 2013), and she is beautiful and a doctor-to-be. Gabby’s current boyfriend is, of course, a handsome doctor. Ryan is played by Tom Welling (a bit heftier than his days as Clark Kent/Superman in “Smallville”).

The beautiful Maggie Grace (Taken) plays Travis’ sister, and Alexandra Daddario (San Andreas) plays Monica … she is not only beautiful, but she is also the nicest, most understanding and supportive “other” woman ever seen on screen. Tom Wilkinson plays Travis’ veterinarian dad, and Sharon Blackwood plays the wise-cracking and match-making assistant Cora. If that’s not enough beauty and success for you, we also get “puppies in a basket”!

Come for the chuckles and tears … just not twists or surprises. Fans of this genre will get exactly what they want. It’s a romantic fantasy set in the somewhat realistic world of doctors, veterinarians, and equestrians. The faces are perfect. The dialogue is snappy without being demanding (even in the God discussion).  Many scenes feature loyal dogs, or a serene lake, or the “moon and stars”. Even the difficult parts of life – raising kids, health issues, etc – are given the ‘yada, yada, yada’ treatment. While Travis claims over and over that Gabby “bothers him”, it’s the kind of bother that creates a cryfest in the theatre … whether things go right or wrong.  It’s also the reason that all eleven Sparks films feature a couple of lovers on the poster. Just remember, if that formula works ….

watch the trailer (or just guess how it ends):