Thin Ice

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Thin Ice

Run time 94 minutes.
OK for children.

From l, Greg Kinnear and Billy Crudup star in “Thin Ice.”

Greg Kinnear gives a sparkling performance as a devious insurance salesman, aided by equally wonderful performances by Billy Crudup and Alan Arkin.

Directed and written (with her sister, Karen Sprecher) by Jill Sprecher, this is a black comedy of the highest order. All three of the principals give award–quality performances. Included in the cast is Bob Balaban, a character actor who generally adds more to a film than one would expect from his generally relatively minor characters. He is as good in this film as he always is.

This script is finely honed as Kinnear stumbles his way from one disaster to another, always making everything worse. His character, Mickey Prohaska, is such a sleazebag that I found myself actually rooting for him to get into constantly deeper trouble.

This is a fine, entertaining black comedy that is so well written and directed that one never anticipates what is going to happen next, except that it’s probably not going to turn out too well for Mickey.

Although Alan Arkin has given many fine performances in his career, I always think of him as the well-meaning submarine captain in Carl Reiner’s The Russians are Coming, the Russians are Coming (1966). Here he plays a kind of doddering old man, and he does it beautifully.

The other performance that stands out, and it could be the best performance in the movie, is the one by Crudup as a volatile, violent security system installer. Even though the movie is terrific throughout, it really picks up whenever Crudup is on-screen. His erratic, tumultuous outbursts are rollicking good fun.

This movie is so good, and so full of twists, that it’s much better if you know nothing about the plot and if you see it straight out of the box, so to speak, as did I.

This Means War

Run time 98 minutes.
Not for children.

From l, Tom Hardy, Reese Witherspoon, and Chris Pine star in “This Means War.”

Back in the day, entertaining movies could be made about two men pursuing one woman like, for instance, Clark Gable and Spencer Tracy going after Myrna Loy or Claudette Colbert. They would have interesting stories and good directors and fine scripts and the audiences would believe them. Gable and Tracy were men’s men who actually had chemistry between them as well as between them and the woman they pursued.

Today, however, when a movie about two men pursuing one woman is made, what results is drivel like this with two guys, Chris Pine and Tom Hardy, going after Reese Witherspoon, who is no stranger to films that lack romantic chemistry. One of the many problems with this is that Pine and Hardy are hardly Gable and Tracy. But the problems don’t stop with inept casting. The film has an absurd story (Timothy Dowling and Simon Kinberg with story credits to Dowling and Marcus Gautesen, although why anybody would want a story credit for this is beyond me; I would think that they’d be fighting to keep their names off of it) that is based on the idea that Pine and Hardy are brutal CIA agents using every spy technique they possess to try to figure out how to win Witherspoon’s heart.

What doesn’t occur to them is honesty, and that’s another huge problem. There isn’t an iota of a reason why Witherspoon would be attracted to these two duds. They ply her with dishonesty and playacting, pretending to be things they are not. Apparently, she’s dumb enough to fall for it.

She’s not helped by having a best friend, Chelsea Handler, who is a foul-talking woman whose advice consists of encouraging Witherspoon to jump in bed with them as fast as possible, and even offers to do it for her, even though she’s a mother with a young child. Her only raison d’être appears to be to make crude jokes about sex and male body parts. She’s certainly not there to make thoughtful suggestions.

One of the scenes is an inane fight between Pine and Hardy that makes absolutely no sense. It occurs in a restaurant when Reese tries to get away from them by going to the bathroom. When she’s gone suddenly they get in a knock-down, drag-out fight in which they look as if they’re trying to kill one another. When Witherspoon returns the restaurant is deserted. There’s not one person left, including staff. There are no police. Nothing. It’s not funny; it’s idiotic.

Director McG has tried action comedies before. He directed two Charlie’s Angels films that were as bad as this, if not worse, if that’s possible. Frankly, I’m sick of films that don’t have a clue about what’s funny and what’s not, that substitute crudity for humor, and appear to be thrown together without a thought given to intelligence and verisimilitude.

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