Monday 8 November 2021

Movie Review: The Ice Road (2021)

A truckers-in-danger thriller, The Ice Road enjoys some impressive visuals, plenty of rumbling heavy machinery, and wild action, but cannot overcome a plastic script and tired plot.

In northern Manitoba, a devastating explosion at the Katka diamond mine traps 26 men underground. With oxygen running out within 30 hours, a desperate plea is issued for truckers willing to risk delivering heavy rescue equipment on fragile ice roads, a month past the safe season for ground transport.

Truck company owner Jim Goldenrod (Laurence Fishburne) responds to the call and recruits driver Mike McCann (Liam Neeson) and his ace mechanic brother Gurty (Marcus Thomas), a veteran suffering from brain injuries. Cree woman Tantoo (Amber Midthunder) joins them as the third driver of three similarly equipped trucks, while insurance company representative Varnay (Benjamin Walker) tags along. The trip is already precarious, but evil conspiratorial forces are at play.

Co-funded by the Government of Manitoba and mashing no less a classic than The Wages Of Fear with television’s Ice Road Truckers, The Ice Road offers the basis of a good idea but falls well short of delivering the necessary goods. Writer and director Jonathan Hensleigh works from a script several drafts away from a final product. The incomprehensible elements include an illogical nefarious plot at the mine, a timeline that seems to ignore the many hours needed to deploy the necessary heavy equipment, and a bewildering thin-the-herd drama among the trapped miners. Willing but under-powered cast members appear to get one take to spout dull lines of dialogue with understandable befuddlement.

The on-the-ice action is modestly tolerable but driven over-the-top by rampant CGI, while many seemingly difficult hurdles (such as how to recover two massive trucks both tipped onto their sides in the middle of nowhere) are merrily skipped over with no technical explanation necessary. The easy-to-spot villain turns into an indestructible force more powerful than anything mother nature can throw at our protagonists. Here Liam Neeson usually saves the day by dragging whatever material is thrown at him towards respectability, but this time the load is too heavy. While moments between the brothers Mike and Gurty offer some warmth in the frigid surroundings, Neeson is reduced to trying too hard.

Amber Midthunder as Tantoo offers the other tolerable side-story, her character battling racist attitudes and a chequered history with Goldenrod as she persists to save her brother among the trapped men. But despite hints of worthwhile entertainment, The Ice Road falls through the cracks.

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