It’s fascinating to imagine Liam Neeson’s management team thinking about their next film. Maybe “Uber Express”? Maybe “Lyfted Up”?
Neeson and vehicles simply have something symbiotic – not just cars, but also airplanes (“Non-Stop”), S-Bahn (“The Commuter”) and even snow plows (“Cold Pursuit”).
And now in “The Ice Road”, This long-lived action hero, who is unlikely to push 70, is behind the wheel of a big old truck – not a regular truck, but a 65,000-pound rig. And of course not on normal roads. On icy roads, i.e. frozen lakes or oceans, where the thaw in spring brings treacherous conditions and one wrong move sends you straight into the icy abyss.
Fortunately, Neeson has the ability to give even the most superficial conspiracies its crude dignity – because this one is, it must be said, superficial. All you need to understand is three elements: good guys, bad guys – no subtlety here – and the fact that ice is very slippery and very cold and tends to melt in the sunshine. I have it?
In this latest edition of the Neeson Vehicle Canon, written and directed by Jonathan Hensleigh, Neeson is Mike McCann, a truck driver who is also the caretaker for his brother Gurty, a war veteran suffering from PTSD. Mike can’t hold on to one job for long – he’s had eleven jobs in eight years, and we see him get fired from his latest job after covering up a guy who makes fun of his brother’s wartime aphasia. But his luck might change.
A methane accident causes a diamond mine to explode in remote Manitoba, Canada, killing eight miners and trapping 26. There’s a 30-hour oxygen window, but rescuers need a wellhead first. The only way to get the wellhead to the mine is by truck.
But it’s April when the ice roads leading to the mine melt. No trucker would attempt such a suicide mission.
Responding to a warning from Jim Goldenrod, the organizer of the impossible rescue, Mike offers his driving skills (yes, Neeson still has special skills) and brother Gurty (Marcus Thomas) as an ace mechanic. The duo will soon be hired and is managed by Goldrenrod himself (Laurence Fishburne, unfortunately underutilized here) and Tantoo (Amber Midthunder), a spirited young driver for whom the job is more personal than financial – her brother is trapped in the mine.
In the convoy of three oil rigs is one more passenger: an insurance man from the company that operates the mine, apparently needed for his actuarial skills (Benjamin Walker, whose considerable acting talent is not really encouraged here, if you’ll excuse the pun).
In a movie that puts a lot of emphasis on great sets, but skims on character development and backstory, we know from the start who the good guys are – especially Mike and Gurty. We also know soon enough who the bad guys are; they are as cartoonish as possible. As for the ice cream, well, there’s a lot, and it’s getting thinner and thinner – what could be said of the plot in trying to get low-hanging fruit off the tree of potential puns.
The lyrics of the Johnny Cash song on the country-inspired soundtrack offer more low-hanging fruit: “All I do is drive, drive, drive”, it says (sung by Jason Isbell). “Try to stay alive.” And while you might think back to those lyrics as you watch Neeson’s Mike do just that – drive, drive, drive – you might also be focusing on the “living” part.
That’s because Neeson’s persistence as an action hero seems more noticeable over the years. Yes, he’s older and more fragile and paler here, and there isn’t even a hint of love interest – unless you count Mike’s believable love for his brother, the only developed relationship in the script. But just like Mike, he does the job, and he’s the reason to look at this.
The Ice Road, a Netflix publication, was rated PG-13 by the Motion Picture Association of America for “strong language and sequences of plot and violence. “Running time: 103 minutes. Two out of four stars.
MPAA Definition of PG-13: Parents Strongly Warned. Some materials may not be suitable for children under the age of 13.
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