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‘The Ice Road’ should have been less traveled

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I’ll be the first to admit that I have a genuine affection for old man action movies. There’s something so compelling about watching a creaky-kneed geriatric hobble his way across the screen, gratefully giving way to stunt performers when things get a little too active. I know that sounds derogatory (and maybe it is, a little) but that doesn’t change the fact that I for-real dig it.

Of course, the king of geriatric action (geriaction?) is my man Liam Neeson. His “Taken” franchise really kicked off the boom times of the subgenre, though I should note that I don’t count the aging action stars as part of it – your Schwarzeneggers, your Stallones, your Willises. And while Neeson’s definitely lost a step or two since that first “Taken” outing, he’s still out there getting after it (and getting those checks).

His latest foray into old man action is “The Ice Road,” a Netflix offering written and directed by Jonathan Hensleigh. This time, Neeson plays an over-the-road truck driver who is pressed into service to save a bunch of trapped miners before it’s too late, only there are outside forces conspiring to stop him from doing that.

It’s the sort of paint-by-numbers action-thriller that makes up the entirety of Neeson’s workload these days – one that is decidedly lacking in both action and thrills. He does his gruff Everyman thing, trying to convey world-weariness even as his only clear motivation is cashing his check. It is purely disposable, a movie designed for folks of a certain age to fall asleep in front of.

A methane explosion in a mine in Manitoba has left 26 miners trapped underground. To rescue them, the mining company must bring in some specialized drilling equipment, but the only way to get it to the remote location is via truck – and the miners have a limited amount of air, so time is of the essence.

Meanwhile, Mike McCann (Neeson) and his brother Gurty (Marcus Thomas, “The Forger”) have just gotten fired. Again. Seems one of their co-workers was verbally abusive toward Gurty, so Mike punched him out. After a failed effort to get Gurty treatment at the VA, the pair looks to be at a loss.

But then, word gets out that ice road trucker Jim Goldenrod (Laurence Fishburne, “Under the Stadium Lights”) is looking for drivers for an emergency run. Mike and Gurty show up and wind up hired, along with troublemaking driver Tantoo (Amber Midthunder, “The Marksman”). Jim, Tantoo and Mike will each drive a truck carrying the necessary equipment for the rescue; the ice road that they’ll be driving is five weeks past its usual shutdown date, so there’s a good chance they won’t all make it. Also along for the ride is Varnay (Benjamin Walker, “Love is Blind”), an actuary for the insurance company.

Meanwhile, the miners are struggling, with two factions quickly developing. One, led by Lampard (Holt McCallany, “Wrath of Man”) and Cody (Martin Sensmeier, TV’s “The Liberator”), has questions about the circumstances behind the explosion. The other, led by Mankins (Chad Bruce, “Fractured”), is looking to extend the air limit by thinning out some of the more badly injured miners.

The ice road run starts strong, but it isn’t long before some serious mishaps start to take place. Trucks are breaking down and breaking through the ice. People are getting badly hurt and dying. And some of the people in these cabs aren’t telling the whole truth about who they are or what their interest in the situation might be. Before long, Mike finds himself in a race against time, yes, but also in a battle for his (and his brother’s) survival in the face of forces more far-reaching and sinister than he ever could have anticipated.

“The Ice Road” is precisely what you think it is. You can hear the elevator pitch – “Liam Neeson drives a semi across an ice road to save miners” – and pretty much work out how it’s all going to go. There are no surprises to be had here; even the moments that are ostensibly meant to be twists are telegraphed so far in advance that they almost (but not quite) become surprises again.

Here’s the thing: there’s not a lot of excitement that comes with basically driving in a straight line across a seemingly endless sheet of ice. Yes, the ice cracks sometimes and there’s some “drama,” such as it is, but there are long stretches of this movie that are quite dull. Even the scenes with the miners, which probably exist to develop some sense of stakes, are undermined by the sheer interchangeability of the guys – there are a couple who talk, but for the most part, they’re all pretty much the same.

It’s fairly obvious that Neeson could not give less of a crap about any of this. Honestly, his complete disinterest in anything going on around him is almost admirable. He knows exactly what this movie is and what his contribution to it needs to be and he gives precisely that much and not one iota more. It’s his usual shtick, quasi-American accent and all. Thomas hasn’t worked in almost a decade and it shows. Walker’s one-note smugness is off-putting. The miners we’ve discussed, though it’s always nice to see Holt McCallany. We get a couple of That Guy types in Matt McCoy and Matt Salinger (should I have gone with Matt Guys?). Fishburne seems like he owed someone a favor. Honestly, the best performance in the movie is probably Midthunder.

“The Ice Road” is the kind of movie that you’ve already forgotten about before the credits are finished rolling. It is generic action fare, good for little but bulking up the Netflix streaming library. It’s not good enough OR bad enough to really care about, even considering the rather low expectations of geriaction. It’s ASMR for retired dudes. “The Ice Road” should have been the one less traveled.

[1.5 out of 5]

Last modified on Monday, 28 June 2021 08:08

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