The Ice Road Review: Netflix and Neeson’s latest is not a worthy watch
When looking at who directed the latest flick starring action star Liam Neeson, The Ice Road, it was actually interesting to see Jonathan Hensleigh listed as both director and writer given his previous work. Hensleigh has actually been a part of making well-known action-adventure thrillers of the late 90s/early 2000s having writing credits on films like Jumanji, Die Hard with a Vengeance, and Armageddon and even made his directorial debut with the 2004 adaptation of The Punisher. The Ice Road, however, is definitely not in the same echelon of notoriety as it just represents the bad of that era of filmmaking.
The premise of a group of ice road truckers risking their lives driving across melting ice to deliver supplies to save trapped miners is pretty solid. It’s a profession and atmosphere we rarely ever see and feels fitting for a gripping action thrill ride of that era. However, rather than come with a workable budget or nuanced script, The Ice Road feels like a shelved story from that era that has somehow made its way to the present.
The film instantly gives off low budget “B movie” vibes with how genuinely poor its effects are and the clear lack of budget it has for its action. Any time the movie shifts into an action-heavy sequence, the only thing that stands out is the atrocious looking explosion and avalanche effects. They’re so distracting that it completely strips away the realism or sense of danger of the situation and makes the snow-filled atmosphere much less compelling or remotely interesting. There are straight to DVD movies whose effects look better and the entire end sequence with the trucks battling on the ice and on a slowly collapsing bridge are laughably bad. The moments of action don’t even have a unique vision behind them to make them memorable and in a time where the action genre is at its strongest, you have to come with better fighting choreography and editing than what’s here. It’s so slow paced and boring that it really only drags out the tortuous runtime.
The Ice Road is truly the movie that just doesn’t want to end with its unnecessarily elongated action sequences and plot that forces itself to become more complicated. Things start out simple enough with the film seemingly showcasing the journey of a small group of ice road truckers braving the elements to save those in need. The possibility of some decent character-driven narratives being told are there with the group of miners being shown from time to time to check in on their survival and main character Mike’s (Neeson) storyline with his brother Gurty (Marcus Thomas) – who severely suffers from PTSD. However, it completely throws its man vs. the elements plot away for a lackluster twist of corporate corruption and turns basically turns into Neeson’s most tiring nearly revenge narrative yet.
There’s honestly no real reason to cut back to the miners at all since they don’t really add much that the main plot with Neeson’s small group doesn’t already touch on. The use of mistrust stemming from racism aimed at Tantoo (Amber Midthunder) is super problematic with how racism is just used as a plot point and nothing more. Even the journey as a whole becomes wrapped up in this awful corruption narrative that’s unoriginal and become incredibly convoluted with how the lengths this company goes to stopping them from reaching the miners. It’s utterly ridiculous and uninspiring to say the least and the performances and writing reflect this.
Neeson’s performance here is easily his worst in recent time as it’s way too over the top to be taken seriously and feels like he’s barely trying, but it’s hard to blame him given the corny and terrible lines he’s given. There’s a lot of unnecessary humor that falls flat and doesn’t gel well with what’s happening. With pretty much all the characters being so paper thin, there are barely remarkable character arcs or genuine emotions for anyone to bring out in their performances. This film completely wastes the rare appearance of Laurence Fishburne and the potential of having him share the screen with Neeson. The film also spends way too much time with its lackluster villains in trying to expose their motivations for trapping the miners and it ends up being so generic that you really couldn’t care less. Honestly, the only way to really get into these performances and the dialogue is to have a “it’s so bad, it’s good” perspective.
The Ice Road is among Neeson’s worst works in recent time with it displaying laughably awful effects and presenting a tiresome story that’s somehow time-traveled from the era of generic early 2000s action thrillers, where it would’ve gone straight to DVD, and made its way onto Netflix.