’The Ice Road’ Review

Liam Neeson’s latest, a modestly exciting disaster flick about a treacherous trek through Canadian tundra, is a Netflix-only deal that fires on partial cylinders. At times marred by subpar CGI, The Ice Road is a by-the-numbers thriller that exists nicely as empty calories, briefly formidable but ultimately forgettable.

Assembled algorithmically, and dispensed derivatively, there’s nothing truly shiny about The Ice Road. In another life, this film would have taken a straight-to-Redbox route, providing a cool-headed compromise for those unable to decide on what to watch on a given Friday night. The grotty effects are ia curious layer here; there are parts of The Ice Road that work well because of — you guessed it — the ice road. Whenever the film can convince you that it’s actually employing practical efforts to showcase the dangers, it’s instantly better. When you believe the characters are in the midst of the elements, and trickily traversing the harsh climate and rickety off-season ice, there’s a sheen of suspense. But then horrid-looking explosions, ice cracks, and avalanches zip you out of the tension pretty quickly and undermine a lot of the action.

After a diamond mine in remote Manitoba experiences a tunnel collapse, three truck drivers are tasked with hauling wellheads (three identical ones to ensure that at least one makes it) over thinning April ice to rescue the trapped miners. The clock is ticking and they’re going to hit every obstacle available. Because little do these emergency truckers know but the mining company has employed devious assassins (lol) to stop them. Killers who can only take out our heroes in ways that’ll look like accidents, mind you. Hitmen employed by those in charge because they need to cover up the fact that the company took shortcuts and inadvertently caused the cave-in. So The Ice Road has smushed together a disaster movie with a crime story in a manner akin to 1993’s Cliffhanger, but somehow here the parts just don’t quite fit and the movie feels a little dumber because of it.

Jonathan Hensleigh (writer of Die Hard with a Vengeance and Armageddon) directs the adventure earnestly, from his own script that offers up few surprises. Any pertinent information about methane, mining, trucking, ice roads, and more get exposition’d to heck, and then all that information comes back in some fashion, usually weaponized against the villains. The baddies themselves are unintentionally comical, and the mid-point twist of the movie is too easy to spot ahead of time. Occasionally though, The Ice Road is able to pile up, and pile on, enough challenges and problems for our heroes that it can suck you into its frosty drama.

Neeson’s character, Mike, is a gritty elder who cares for his veteran brother (Marcus Thomas) whose combat injuries have caused him to have aphasia. Bouncing from job to job, like a modern era George and Lennie, the siblings have been ostracized from legit trucking gigs. Neeson basically does his thing here, which is to say he’s a gruff hard-ass with “someone to care about,” while the film itself sort of cheats at the end and offers up a disturbing solution for their challenges.

Legion’s Amber Midthunder plays the most interesting character of the batch, nicely sprucing up the supporting players as Tantoo, a no-nonsense indigenous driver who has a police record due to protesting. Tantoo allows this antiquated actioner to feel a bit more youthful while also getting in, and spreading out the information dump, which is divided up between her, Neeson, and Laurence Fishburne’s dispatcher.

There’s nothing dreadful about The Ice Road (aside from some CGI shots), just formulaic elements that make you realize there are better thrillers out there involving snow. Or trucks. Or Liam Neeson. Honestly, and it’s more darkly comedic, you’d do better with 2019’s Cold Pursuit.

Verdict
The Ice Road, at best, is a callback to past thrillers that have already used many of the beats and twists here and, if nothing else, it nestles in nicely with the rest of Liam Neeson’s late-stage action flicks. When the obstacles pile up, the ticking clock element of the story certainly adds tension but overall things play out rather predictably and tediously.

Review by mattfowler

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