For fans of “Highway to Hell” and “Ice Road Truckers” and more reality, this all seems familiar.
Trucks get stuck in the snow, their wheels spinning … They teeter into a ditch … The ice buckles under them, preparing to dump them into the lake … Bikers zoom alongside, attacking the driver … And …
OK, maybe some of those don’t happen much in real life. That’s why we have fiction and Liam Neeson, whose movie characters keep having some very bad days.
His latest film is “The Ice Road” (shown here), which has just arrived on Netflix. It’s the worst nightmare of any driver’s ed instructor, times (approximately) a thousand.
Neeson portrays – this might not surprise you – a guy who is tough, taciturn, honest and angry. Jobless, he tackles an assignment that could make him semi-rich or totally dead.
Some miners are trapped, with the oxygen fading. Rescue equipment might save them, if it can get there quickly. But the only fast route is over a lake that will soon thaw.
The plan is to send identical loads on three semis, hoping one will make it through. One truck has the operation’s chief (Laurence Fishburne); another has Mike (Neeson) and his brother, a gifted mechanic and a veteran whose brain has been scrambled by PTSD. The third is driven by a young Cree woman (Amber Midthunder) who manages to outsnarl Neeson; an insurance guy – who’s really not her type – is along for the ride.
What follows is, at first, just a neatly heightened version of the reality shows. Filmed by writer-director Jonathan Hensleigh on Lake Winnipeg, it’s slick and involving.
As a director, Hensleigh is excellent. As a writer, he starts well and then goes wildly overboard. The ultra-nasty villains (including a few of the trapped miners) simply aren’t believable. One also seems indestructible, even by “Terminator” standards; a horrendous car crash, rolling wildly down the hill, requires only a slight grimace and a brief crick in his neck.
Forever stretching for a “wow factor,” the movie too often ends up with a “whaaa?!?”
By the end, it is cascading in excess. Until then, however, it was a bumpy but bracing ride.