Synopsis – After a remote diamond mine collapses in the far northern regions of Canada, an ice driver leads an impossible rescue mission over a frozen ocean to save the lives of trapped miners despite thawing waters and a threat they never see coming.
My Take – Ever since 2008’s Taken reshuffled his career from being an actor involved in a range of projects across genres into a grizzled action star whose main job in films requires him to main snarl, make threats and beat up bad guys, 69-year-old actor Liam Neeson seems to have become too comfortable in the zone, despite claiming to quit it for several years now.
While his subsequent follow ups were more than decent entertainers, Neeson’s more recent efforts have begun to suggest that he’s got one foot out the door, feeling half-hearted at nearly every turn. A factor also visible in his latest foray into the genre which is adequate at best and never bad enough to completely write off, however at the same time it is also very generic and just not thrilling enough to hold your attention for 108 minutes.
Though writer-director Jonathan Hensleigh (The Punisher, Kill the Irishman) throws avalanches, weak suspension bridges and ice cracks into the protagonist’s path, not to mention a team of snowmobile-riding henchmen, the end result is just forgettable and never quite as slick an action vehicle as its premise might suggest.
Sure, there’s no question that Liam Neeson‘s presence in even the silliest of films immediately provides an element of gravitas that other actors his age can’t be depended to provide, but, this time around even the charismatic actor can’t boost the entertainment value of this middle-of-the-road film that will easily slip through the one’s mind once the credits begin rolling.
The story follows Mike McCann (Liam Neeson), a truck driver, who along with his brother Gurty (Marcus Thomas), an expert mechanic and veteran with a mental disability, is hired by Jim Goldenrod (Laurence Fishburne), the owner of the trucking company to join him, Tantoo (Amber Midthunder), a Native American driver, and Varnay (Benjamin Walker), a mine insurance rep, on a rescue mission to drive rigs with wellheads to a diamond mine in northern Manitoba, Canada, where about two dozen miners have been trapped following a methane explosion.
The only trouble is with the mine located in such a remote area, the trucks have to go through ice roads, actual paths that have been created on frozen northern lakes which are only used in the peak winter months when the ice is thick enough. But since it’s been four months off season, driving on those roads is going to be incredibly risky, potentially life threatening.
To be fair, the film does start off strong with its inspired idea of pitting earnest characters against the deadly challenge of treacherous terrain in pursuit of a better life. Even the setup is laid out well about how the incredibly heavy rigs must never travel too slow to avoid causing the ice to crack, nor must they travel too fast to create pressure waves that will also lead to cracks, not must they stop.
Hensleigh has proved genre chops as a writer for fare that’s both relatively grounded and utterly ridiculous, and his early sequences on the ice road manage to add some suspense as each crack echoes across frightened faces, but what could have be done when Hensleigh himself doesn’t seem to have faith in his own material as he suddenly shifts gears and brings in double-crosses, corporate conspiracies, and henchmen for Neeson to punch. Eventually limping across the finish line thanks to Neeson’s believable grit, determination and eternal brotherly love.
Just dragging at certain points even when we know where the film is heading, with subpar CG effects only adding to the pain. Making matters worse is that the miners trapped in the mountain, the whole reason that the mission is taking place in the first place, are unfortunately not nearly as interesting. There are very few scenes with them, which makes sense in the spirit of focusing on the main rescue crew more. Add to that the total lack of sense of humor, you’re just left with a total dud.
Performance wise, Liam Neeson brings his usual charm and is reliably effective as the kind of gruff and heroic and character he can play in his sleep. Laurence Fishburne also exudes his usual likability which makes you grateful for his small role. Benjamin Walker, best known for Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, is severely miscast here despite a spiky performance.
Amber Midthunder brings a burst of attitude and energy that helps, while Marcus Thomas does his best with a stock character. In supporting roles, Holt McCallany and Matt McCoy are incredibly wasted. On the whole, ‘The Ice Road’ is a forgettable lousy action thriller that is not nearly as fun as other Liam Neeson affairs.
Directed – Jonathan Hensleigh
Rated – PG13
Run Time – 108 minutes