‘The Ice Road’ Review: Thin Ice, Thinner Screenplay
By Daniel Rester
The “Liam Neeson Action Subgenre” now has a new entry in its group called The Ice Road. Since Taken (2009), Neeson’s career has included a couple of these elderly-guy-kicks-ass movies seemingly each year. While Neeson always commits and is fun to watch, the results of the projects have varied overall. Unfortunately, The Ice Road is one of the lesser ones.
The Ice Road finds the star playing a big rig driver named Mike McCann in an Ice Road Truckers-like situation, but with guns and betrayals added to the mix. Instead of saving his daughter in Europe, he has to travel across dangerous Canadian lands in order to deliver wellheads to a collapsed mine before the trapped miners run out of oxygen. It’s a highly dangerous mission, but Mike accepts in order to help the miners and hopes to collect a reward in order to save up for his own rig.
Along for the ride is Mike’s PTSD-stricken brother named Gurty (Marcus Thomas), an in-and-out-of-jail driver named Tantoo (Amber Midthunder), a slimy corporate guy named Tom (Benjamin Walker), and a mission leader named Jim (Laurence Fishburne). The five of them use three trucks instead of one, all with wellheads, in case something happens to one of the trucks. And it’s no surprise when they do end up facing some obstacles, including cracking ice, avalanches, and even baddies with machine guns.
Written and directed by Jonathan Hensleigh, a writer behind action projects like Armageddon (1998) and The Punisher (2004), The Ice Road script feels like a dopey 1990s Speed (1994) clone while also trying to deliver 2020s correctness. The plot is a basic time crunch scenario with the usual environmental dangers and character backstabs, while the writing also clumsily tries to tackle subjects like PTSD, corporations cutting safety corners, and the opioid crisis. This would be more fun if the film had more of a light tone but it tries to be too serious and it comes across with boring scenes, underdeveloped characters, and poor dialogue.
Hensleigh doesn’t do much intriguing stuff from a directorial standpoint either. Despite there being beautiful locations, they never really pop as the staging constantly sticks with the truck and hero actions and the predictable editing around them. The visual effects certainly don’t aid Hensleigh either as some of the explosion CGI is downright laughable. There are a few admittedly exciting scenes, like when two tied-together trucks have to match speed as they outrun cracking ice. However, more often we’re just wanting the drivers to face environmental challenges and character growth instead of the typical corporate baddies they do face.
The acting is okay from the heroes while all of the villain performers are ridiculous. Walker’s Tom character feels like he could strap someone to a traintack any second as he does nefarious activities for the “evil corporation.” Neeson and Fishburne are always interesting no matter the material, though they deserve better than this. Thomas does a fine job as Gurty though and breathes some life into the Mike-Gurty relationship; Mike has to always take care of his brother because of his issues with PTSD and aphasia.
Neeson is already 69, so who knows how many films he still has left for the “Liam Neeson Action Subgenre” before he hangs up the gloves and guns. Few of the flicks are as good as Taken, but not all of them are as bad as The Ice Road either. Hopefully he has a few more that are better so he doesn’t go out on a sour note with The Ice Road.
My Grade: 4.5/10 (letter grade equivalent: C-)
Running Time: 1h 49min