Mob lawyer Charlie Arglist (John Cusack) and a crooked businessman, Vic Cavanaugh (Billy Bob Thornton), decide to relieve mob boss Bill Guerrard (Randy Quaid) of $2 million dollars on Christmas Eve. The two hope for a clean getaway, but an ice storm traps them in Wichita with their increasingly suspicious community.
[Review contains spoilers.]
The film opens on Christmas Eve, with the heist already in action. It is never explained how Charlie (Cusack) and Vic (Thornton) accomplished the embezzlement, much less what their connection or loyalty to one another is.
He Said: Is it gonna be better than Reindeer Games [last year’s holiday Pillow Talk]?
She Said: I don’t know; is anything better than Reindeer Games?
He Said: At least it’s rated-R. And it said ‘nudity’ – that’s a good sign.
She Said: Ah, there’s hope for the holidays. And the casting – it’s not Christmas without Billy Bob Thornton!
The plot is taking longer to show up than a made-to-order soufflé!
Much of the action (no pun intended. Oh, what the heck – pun intended) takes place at a variety of strip clubs around town. We are introduced to femme fatale Renata Crest (Connie Nielsen), owner of the Sweet Cage, who happens to be Charlie’s crush. She quickly susses out that Charlie is hiding something and asks that he take her with him when he leaves town.
She Said: Well, you got your nudity, right out of the gate. Cheers! And the ladies are getting the best lines:[“It’s against my religion to give personal advice, but you should either sober up or get real drunk.” – Renata] [“I’m not working on Christmas Eve so some guy can look at my twat.” – disgruntled stripper]
He Said: Toto, I don’t think we’re in Portland (known for having the most strip clubs per capita) anymore. Geez, how many strip clubs are there in Wichita?
She Said: Damn, they appear to be giving Portland a run for the money!
The guys try their luck at an old-fashioned cock lottery. [Photo Credit]
Charlie and Vic split up when they realize they can’t make the quick escape they desired. Charlie reluctantly allows Vic to hang onto the money until they can meet up again to hightail it out of town. Why don’t they divide the money and split up at this point? Good question – and one that’s never answered; other than the fact that there would be no movie if they proceeded with this logic.
She Said: Here’s some interesting trivia: the last movie John Cusack and Billy Bob Thornton starred in together in was Pushing Tin, and that’s where Billy Bob met Angelina Jolie. She played his wife.
He Said: Was John Cusack jealous?
She Said: John closely guards information about his personal life, but I’ll bet he was bummed that he didn’t land her. Wouldn’t you be?
He Said: Good point.
She Said: So, I’m not really clear how they know each other well enough to have agreed to steal $2 million dollars together.
He Said: Yeah, it’s not really making a lot of sense.
She Said: I’m having a hard time believing this is a Harold Ramis (Animal House, Ghostbusters, Groundhog’s Day, etc.) film.
He Said: Don’t directors sometimes make their assistants do all the work? I have a feeling this was directed by… Harold Ramis’s foot.
I’ll bet Billy Bob and John Cusack were missing filming Pushing Tin, in a big way. [Photo Credit]
Enter Pete Van Heuten (Oliver Platt), Charlie’s wildly drunk friend who happens to be married to Charlie’s ex-wife. Oliver struggles mightily to infuse the drab proceedings with an over-the-top approach to his lush of a character, but it’s an uphill battle.
She Said: I miss Reindeer Games. This is supposed to a dark comedy, but I’m missing the part where there’s comedy. Reindeer Games was also a six-pack, but at least it was fun to watch.
He Said: Ramis has broken the cardinal rule of filmmaking – give us something to care about. The entire cast could die right now and I wouldn’t care.
She Said: It has all the elements of a great movie, given the cast and crew. I don’t know what went wrong.
He Said: Someone forgot to write a plot.
She Said: Ah, you’re so smart! I think that calls for another Anchor Steam Christmas Ale. Don’t worry, darling; I’ll pause it. I don’t want you to miss a thing.
He Said: So kind, so civilized. Such bullshit. Please, let me miss a few minutes.
She Said: If it takes more than a few minutes for the next beer to be in my hand, we will definitely have a problem. [laughter]
For the love of god, do something resembling anything! Preferably something funny.
Charlie continues to run around town in an increasing panic. Meanwhile Vic is missing in action. Charlie grows even more concerned when he learns that Bill, the mob boss, is in town and inquiring about both of their whereabouts.
He Said: Billy Bob must’ve gotten a better movie in the middle of this film. He’s barely in it. I can only assume he’s off doing something better. It’s like when Bela Lugosi leaves in the middle of Ed Wood.
She Said: I think we were sold a bill of goods here.
He Said: Is Billy Bob’s character dead? That’s one way to get out of your contract!
She Said: I feel like everyone’s winging it. And here’s crazy Randy Quaid. I forget he was even in this; it’s taken him so long to show up.
He Said: It’s easy for him to play a crazy person. Foreshadowing? I would call this a new genre – Film Not. Shit, more happens in a Jim Jarmusch film.
She Said: Yeah, geez. I wasn’t aware I was signing up to take a nap.
Even the scenes that are supposed to be menacing are boring.
It’s [a forced version of] film noir – so naturally there’s a violent culmination to mark the end of an otherwise incredibly slow-moving story. Will Charlie get double-crossed? Yes, yes he will. Yet will he still drive off into the sunset? Indeed.
He Said: This was a pale version of The Grifters. Also, I don’t think you should drink and drive in the middle of an ice storm (or ever). Is that the lesson they’re trying to impart?
She Said: I’ll take any moral of the story, at this point. Hell, I’ll take any story at all. I gotta say – I do like the ending. There’s a tiny piece of satisfaction, after all that.
He Said: I don’t agree. This movie was like a piece of poop in the toilet that just won’t flush. No wonder no one talked about this; it was like going to the dentist.
She Said: Now that’s a yuletide greeting of mixed metaphors. Happy Holidays!
Harold Ramis takes a stab at film noir and fails miserably. Even the presence of Cusack and Thornton can’t save this one.
Take a Drink: every time you wonder why in the hell Charlie and Vic don’t hightail it out of town, even with the road conditions.
Take a Drink: for every strip club Charlie visits over the course of the evening.
Take a Drink: for every awesome line Renata has.
Take a Drink: every time Pete does.