'Thin Ice' review: Sometimes it's more solid than you expect

*** (out of four)

Call me a sucker, but “Thin Ice” played me like a violin.

In fact, a violin holds together a situation that seems like a retread through minor indie territory covered recently by “Cedar Rapids” and “Win Win.” That is, until things spin toward “Before the Devil Knows You're Dead” and writers Jill (who also directed) and Karen Sprecher twist toward something clever, if a little strained.

Wisconsin insurance agent Mickey Prohaska (Greg Kinnear) looks like a nice Midwestern man, but he's always selling what he knows people shouldn't be buying. The guy's a wolf in sheep's clothing. No, wait. He's an animal of a salesman, but so quietly arrogant he's more like a snake who thinks he's the only snake in the world. Mickey gets in over his head when a simple attempt to establish a policy for an elderly man (Alan Arkin) turns into an unlikely, unwanted partnership with a locksmith (Billy Crudup) who kills the old man's friend. Soon, Mickey’s digging through quicksand as one desperate move creates the need for another.

It would be wrong to give more plot information, and nothing needs to be said about disposable scenes between Mickey and his soon to be ex-wife (Lea Thompson). With a strong whiff of “Fargo” that ultimately doesn't diminish the sinister entertainment value, “Thin Ice” challenges how dark a dark comedy needs to be to avoid the feeling that the plot is dripping. (Shame the ending goes so soft, though.) When it's all over, you may feel a little like Mickey does toward the beginning of the film when he wakes up with his pants around his ankles, stunned that he let this happen.

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mpais@tribune.com. @mattpais

 

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