LITTLE ROCK Thin Ice
88 Cast: Greg Kinnear, Alan Arkin, Billy Crudup, Lea Thompson, Bob Balaban, David Harbour Director: Jill Sprecher Rating: R, for language, and brief violent and sexual content Running time: 94 minutes
The obvious and probably too easy reference point for Jill (Thirteen Conversations About One Thing) Sprecher’s Thin Ice is the Coen brothers’ upper Midwest noir Fargo. But if Sprecher’s movie isn’t quite a classic, it doesn’t deserve to be dismissed as a derivative curiosity either — it’s a diverting black comedy with a very good cast and a feel for the rhythms and vernacular of the flyover North.
The real triumph of the film is its pitch-perfect casting. All the principals and supporting players fit seamlessly into their roles, and the acting is first-rate. Greg Kinnear, particularly, seems born to play Mickey Prohaska, a Kenosha, Wis., insurance agent who has built a kind of career preying on the naive and dim-witted, employing his innate slickness to squeeze through ethical loopholes. (Yes, he’s a distant relation to William H. Macy’s compromised Jerry Lundegaard.) But he’s getting desperate, and he’s looking for a way out — one last con that could set him up and maybe win back the ex-wife (Lea Thompson) he abused financially.
He thinks he finds it in the person of Gorvy Hauer (Alan Arkin), an addled old-timer who has recently inherited an ancient violin that may be worth many thousands. At least that’s what the appraiser (Bob Balaban) thinks. Mickey’s made aware of all this through his straight-arrow subordinate, Bob (David Harbour), who not only writes Gorvy a homeowner’s policy but persuades him to install an alarm system.
Enter Randy (a wonderfully psychotic Billy Crudup), an erratic, ex-con locksmith who also installs alarm systems. Well, you see where this is going. A lot of the film’s fun derives from watching Mickey sweat as the plot becomes bloodier and more convoluted than he’d imagined, although the third act will feel like a cheat to some.
It doesn’t destroy the film, but it cheapens it — and the filmmakers apparently agree.
In a letter to Roger Ebert, Sprecher — who wrote the script with her sister, Karen Sprecher (they similarly collaborated on 1997’s excellent Clockwatchers and 2002’s even better Thirteen Conversations About One Thing) — disowned the film.
“The producers and distributor of our film completely re-edited it without me,” she wrote. “Nearly 20 minutes were cut; the structure rearranged; outtakes used; voiceover and characters dropped; key plot points omitted; a new score added. Although our names contractually remain on the film, my sister and I do not consider Thin Ice to be our work.”
That noted, the film that has made its way into theaters is no disgrace to any of the names in the credits. Still, it would be very interesting to see the movie that the Sprechers intended to make.