Jun 29, 2021
Review: The Ice Road
Review: The Ice Road
The Ice Road is the new Liam Neeson actioner written and directed by Jonathan Hensleigh. Interestingly enough, Hensleigh also wrote Armageddon (1998). More on this in the story doctoring section.
When I first heard about The Ice Road (2021), I thought I’d already seen it. Turns out I watched the similarly titled Cold Pursuit (2019). Cold Pursuit was a mixed bag, while The Ice Road is a dreary exercise in recycling a story line from a superior movie.
The basic setup is that Mike McCann (Liam Neeson) and his brother Gurty (Marcus Thomas) who suffers from PTSD and aphasia, end up as unemployed truckers.
Jim Goldenrod (Laurence Fishburne) arrives to lead a rag-tag team transporting wellheads to rescue 26 trapped miners. Jim recruits Mike and his brother along with jailed Native American activist Tantoo (Amber Midthunder). Of course, she has to be bailed out first. Rounding out the team is Tom Varnay (Benjamin Walker) who comes along for the ride to assess insurance risks.
The only way to reach the miners before their oxygen runs out is to traverse an old, perilous ice road bridge. However, no one on the team seems desperate enough or engaged enough to go on what might amount to a suicide mission.
One team member has skin in the game, but we never get a real emotional connection that makes us care. Mike and his bro seem more concerned with buying their own rig than saving a bunch of trapped miners.
Laurence Fishburne lends gravitas to his role, but it’s never believable that any of the characters are long-haul truckers. Amber Midthunder is here to provide spunky comic relief. Unfortunately, the writing is not strong enough and all the jokes fall flat. The characters exist as nothing more than cardboard cutouts. Who are these people? We don’t know. And, frankly, we don’t care.
One ridiculous scene after another is filled with unbelievable coincidences and bad CGI. Don’t forget to throw in an obligatory Neeson fight scene. We couldn’t live without that. Then we’re treated to a scene where the bad guy hatches a plan right out of a Looney Tunes cartoon. Cutting away to the trapped miners only makes things worse. Most of them are unlikable.
The ending has no emotional resonance. When they get the emotion right, I cry like a baby.
Nevertheless, The Ice Road is not so bad that it's unwatchable. It might not be fine entertainment, but it will make a fine background movie when you stream it on Netflix.
If this movie reminds you of 1998’s Armageddon, you’re not alone. The Ice Road is an obvious terrestrial retread without the good parts. Tightening up the screenplay would require giving most characters a redemption story and anchoring their fate to that arc. Better yet, make the recruited team members drillers like in Armageddon. Goldenrod would be the only long-haul driver. Everyone would need to learn to drive truck, transport the wellheads over the treacherous road, and then actually launch a rescue when they reached the collapsed mine. As it stands, the ending sidelines the main characters and without changing their professions it’s a tough fix.
Two stars out of five.