You watch enough reality TV, you know this. Ice road trucking is damned dangerous without throwing in much melodrama.
So all this villainy, these snowmobile chases, ice truck bumper cars and what not that “The Ice Road” serves up? A bit of gilding the Liam Neeson lily, right?
It’s another action picture for Mr. Neeson, another set of “particular skills” are trotted out. And as TV has covered most of the “work the problem” of doing this dangerous driving, coping with mishaps, breakdowns, tragedy and deadlines, I guess we can forgive the farthest fetched stuff that piles on in the third act.
But truth be told, “Ice Road” goes a bit wrong, right from the get-go. An action film fan sees a digital explosion knock over a digital dump truck closing the Katka diamond mine in Northern Manitoba, and the heart sinks. That doesn’t bode well for the rest of the movie.
But as a rag tag trio of truck drivers on a “suicide mission” trying to transport gear miles and kilometers over a not-quite-wholly frozen lake, a not-weight-rated bridge, etc., real trucks and real stunts take over and in that regard, at least, it’s not half-bad.
Laurence Fishburne is the guy who assembles the team, which includes First Nation rebel Tantoo (Amber Midthunder), fresh out of jail, and newly-fired North Dakota siblings Mike and Gurty (Neeson and Marcus Thomas).
Everybody’s got a story, but the only one really explained is Mike and Gurty’s. Mike’s brother is a vet with mind-numbing PTSD, but hangs onto his diesel repair skills like the last piece of the old “him” he has left.
They need to get these wellheads — at least one of them, on three separate trucks (“triple redundancy”) — to the mine to drain out the methane gas that blew the place up and will asphyxiate the survivors trapped down below. The drivers need to manage this within “the oxygen window” those men (Holt McCallany is their leader) have left.
There’s an insurance guy from the mine company (Benjamin Walker) along for the ride, here to act as a surrogate for the audience, to have frozen lake “pressure waves” and the like explained to him (and us). And he’s there to state the obvious.
“You’re out of your minds, all of you!”
Things go wrong in a hurry, drivers try to “work the problem” using their skills and knowhow, and still people die. Will this all be in vain?
You know the answer. You can figure out the villains (one was George’s nemesis on “Seinfeld”) and even predict who gets punched in the mouth, if not exactly when.
Neeson is in solid form, villains do their villainy and the sassy lady driver copes with anti-Native racism with her smart mouth and her fists, to fun effect.
This genre of road adventure has a rich history, from “They Drive by Night” to “Wages of Fear” to “Sorcerer,” desperate people driven to do a deadly job of driving” and paying for that with their lives.”
“Ice Road” summons up memories of its antecedents, here and there.
But that ridiculous over-the-top third act, topping even the odd operating-on-ice physics of “The Ice Road,” tends to take the air right out of the Jonathan Hensleigh film’s tires.
MPA Rating: PG-13 (Sequences of Action & Violence|Strong Language)
Cast: Liam Neeson, Laurence Fishburne, Amber Midthunder, Holt McCallany, Marcus Thomas and Matt McCoy
Credits: Scripted and directed by Jonathan Hensleigh. A Netflix release.
Running time: 1:49