Movie Review: The Ice Road

The reigning king of geriaction films, Liam Neeson, trades in his snowplow for an 18-wheeler in yet another actioner filmed in the Great White North. This time, though, he’s taking on some shady Canadians… as if such a thing could even exist.

In THE ICE ROAD, a story inspired by the 1953 French thriller, THE WAGES OF FEAR, Neeson (HONEST THIEF; MIB: INTERNATIONAL; WIDOWS; SILENCE) plays Mike, an experienced long-haul driver based in North Dakota. After he loses his job for getting into a fight with another driver, Mike hears about an emergency gig across the border. A diamond mine in remote northern Manitoba has collapsed, trapping 26 miners led by Lampard (Holt McCallany, GREENLAND, SULLY; CONCUSSION; TV’s MINDHUNTER) inside. With the miners’ air quickly running out, Winnipeg-based logistics expert/dispatcher/trucker/token Black guy Goldenrod (Laurence Fishburne, WHERE’D YOU GO, BERNADETTE; the JOHN WICK films; ANT-MAN AND THE WASP; PASSENGERS; TV’S CSI) is tasked with putting together a team of truckers – Mike and his brother Gurty (Belgian actor Marcus Thomas), an Iraq War veteran who suffers from aphasia and who also happens to be a mechanic savant; Tantoo (Amber Midthunder, HELL OR HIGH WATER), a feisty First Nations (Cree, to be specific) woman whose brother just happens to be one of the trapped miners; and Goldenrod himself – to haul some heavy equipment up to the mine to be used to cap its deadly methane gas emissions. Joining them on the mission is the mine’s actuary, Varnay (Benjamin Walker, ABRAHAM LINCOLN: VAMPIRE HUNTER), because that’s what corporate actuaries do. Due to the time constraints, the truckers will have to use Manitoba’s famed ice roads that run over the province’s frozen lakes even though it’s already April and the roads may violently crack open under the weight of the semis moving across them. But that’s not the only peril facing the convoy. Someone doesn’t want their mission to succeed.

On behalf of my fellow Canadians, I apologize for this dumb film. Although a good portion of it was shot in the great outdoors, and Neeson and Thomas really did have to jump into the icy water, most of Neeson’s scenes take place in the semi’s cab, presumably with a green screen set up behind him. As for the “action”, much of that is downright laughable with Mike and the bad guy (I won’t reveal who it is), duking it out while slipping and sliding on one of those ice roads. The most ridiculous part of the story is how Mike and Gurty “science the shit” out of every problem the semis run into while on the ice. One of their solutions, if it’s even logistically or scientifically possible, would most certainly have seen a semi or two crashing through the ice.

Writer-director Jonathan Hensleigh (writer of DIE HARD WITH A VENGEANCE; JUMANJI; ARMAGEDDON; writer-director of THE PUNISHER) is no stranger to action films but THE ICE ROAD is as exciting as a puddle of slush with cardboard characters making trite statements that only elicited groans and giggles from my audience. McCallany and Midthunder are sadly underused while Neeson snarls with anger at every turn. This role is far from his best work but he probably doesn’t care. As long as he’s still a bankable commodity in Hollywood, he’ll continue making these lame actioners. That’s why we’ll be seeing again in the next few years in at least three more such films.

THE ICE ROAD opens tomorrow (June 24) here in Hong Kong and drops on Friday on Netflix in the US and other markets. If you really bored, check it out just for the eye rolls you’re inevitably going to be doing.

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