John Cusack's made a hell of a career out of being a dork. Not a real dork, mind you—as far as I can recall, he (thankfully) hasn't ever thrown down Dungeons & Dragons-style, and he clearly has no problem scoring with chicks. But his nebbish sort of self-consciousness and cleverer-than-average-everyman shtick has marked him, ever since 1989's Say Anything, as cinema's de facto adorable loser. (If nothing else, The O.C.'s Seth Cohen should be paying Cusack royalties.)
So in recent years, it's been pretty interesting to watch Cusack embrace his typecasting while trying to score interesting projects. What works best are vague variations on a theme—like his record store owner in High Fidelity, or Grosse Point Blank's off-kilter hitman. And what works... well, okay is the morally vacuous Wichita lawyer, Charlie Arglist, his character in Harold Ramis' dark comedy/existential angst drama, The Ice Harvest.
Actually, Cusack's character would probably work better if the movie was less of a mess. Following Arglist as he gets embroiled in a heist on Christmas Eve, Harvest's narrative also involves Arglist's sleazy co-conspirator, Vic (Billy Bob Thornton), his dipshit friend (Oliver Platt), a local crime boss (Randy Quaid), and a convenient love interest (Connie Nielsen).
There's promise here, in a couple of different ways—there's the dark comedy aspect (one can hardly ask for a better duo than Thornton and Cusack—and the always good Thornton's especially great when it comes to the sardonic relationship between Vic and his wife); there's the tormented modern life aspect (Platt's great as a constantly drunk, wildly depressed burnout); and the sharp crime caper aspect. The problem is that The Ice Harvest tries to have it all ways, and comedy director Harold Ramis is out of his element—he's great when it comes to the script's dark humor, but when it comes to the plot's emotional elements, The Ice Harvest just feels meandering and inconsequential. Despite a few killer lines and characters, some refreshingly vicious comedy (all the better to chase away that annoying-as-fuck holiday cheer), and some great performances, The Ice Harvest just ends up sliding all over the place.