Review: Liam Neeson keeps slippery 'The Ice Road' from total submersion
Courtesy of Netflix
The last time Liam Neeson was stuck in the cold, he was battling a group of sadistic, flesh hungry wolves in “The Grey,” one of the earlier films during the actor’s career resurgence. That the 69 year old has shown considerable range from lousy action headliner to supporting player in awards fodder like “Widows” is either a testament to his work ethic or the necessity to cash an easy paycheck. Throughout the pandemic, Neeson spawned two number one openings (by default) in the form of “Honest Thief” and “The Marksman,” similar flicks about a guy on the run from cartoonish bad guys, but in his latest straight-to-streaming release “The Ice Road,” he’s the one doing the chasing (er driving) in what’s essentially “Ice Road Truckers” the movie. And it’s kinda fun, though I’m sure chugging three brewskis might be the perfect recipe when gauging whether or not this film works for you.
A slippery road filled with a considerable amount of unfinished CGI, there’s something refreshing about Neeson taking on corporate greed rather than Bolivian mobsters. He plays big rig ice road driver and ho hum everyman Mike, recently fired from a previous job because he got physical with co-workers calling his mentally challenged
brother/mechanic Gurty (Marcus Thomas) derogatory names, finds himself leading a race against the clock rescue mission, transporting heavy equipment across miles of thawing ice in the middle of April (for context, the dangerous ice road trucking season ends in March).
The payload is life or death for a group of stranded diamond miners after their tunnel collapses, leaving them deserted with roughly 30 hours of oxygen. Above the surface, shady employer the Katka Mine Company has ulterior motives, worried their cost cutting measures that caused the accident will become public and two sniveling big-wigs devise a scheme to make sure Mike and crew (rounded out by Laurence Fisbourne and Amber Midthunder) never reach their destination.
You’re apt to get more thrills from an episode of “Ice Road Truckers” than you would from Jonathan Hensligh’s film, who between writing “Armageddon” and “Die Hard with a Vengeance” knows a thing about implausible scenarios and racing against the clock, but there’s a stubborn grittiness about “The Ice Road” which keeps the action engaging. Perhaps it's Neeson actually fighting and thrashing with believable stakes (he’s trying to save blue collar Candians as opposed to his daughter, friends, himself etc) or maybe it's the absurd presentation and cornballish spurts of dialogue (“This is PERSONAL!”) that rightfully stays true to a subgenre of action flicks basked in sheer loud and obnoxious madness. (Say what you will about Neeson, the dude always looks committed).
In any case, “The Ice Road” drives on hollow foundations and the questionable casting of Thomas won’t make this sleight Friday night diversion go down any smoother, but this is probably the best version of a movie where Liam Neeson stops bad guys while driving a huge rig in the great white north. Just keep the booze handy and tread lightly.
THE ICE ROAD is now streaming on Netflix.