MOVIE REVIEW : Deep Thoughts Melt 'The Ice Runner'

TIMES STAFF WRITER

"The Ice Runner" (Laemmle's Sunset 5 and UA Westwood) is the kind of movie usually described as "grueling"--which in this case literally means watching a lot of grubby guys eating gruel.

Edward Albert as Jeffrey West plays an American spy in Moscow in 1987 who is sacrificed by his fellow agents to a Siberian work camp. En route to an almost certain death, his train is derailed--it's a Tinkertoy version of the train wreck in "The Fugitive." Amid the confusion Jeffrey assumes the identity of a convicted felon, believing (rightly) that political prisoners get even worse treatment.

Most of the movie takes place in the work camp, which was the site of an actual gulag used during the Stalin period. (You can believe it.) Jeffrey goes through the usual ritual humiliations at the hands of his captors: The camp commander, played by Eugene Lazarev, has it in for him; so does the local strongman inmate, an oaklike behemoth played by Sergei Ruban. When the wife (Olga Kabo) of his alias shows up at camp for some connubial bliss, Jeffrey must first persuade her he's worth saving. (It doesn't take much.)

Albert gives a no-nonsense, determinedly grim performance, and Lazarev matches him. Toward the end, when they square off alone in the wasteland, they're like sub-zero characters out of a Russianized Beckett play. "The Ice Runner" (rated R for violence and sexuality) would have been better off honing in on these two men and canning the slow-motion romantic interludes and the overheated spirituality.

But director Barry Samson and screenwriters Joyce Warren, Clifford Coleman and Joshua Stallings pump up the idomitability-of-man stuff, and they cross it with a kind of New Age double talk--or maybe it's triple talk. Victor Wong, playing a Siberian soul mate of Jeffrey's, offers him all manner of deep thoughts about how to become one with the caribou, or some such, in order to escape across the frozen tundra. If only Jeffrey had responded by saying, "How about a Humvee instead?"

'THE ICE RUNNER'

Edward Albert: Jeffrey West Victor Wong: Fyodor Eugene Lazarev: Kolya Sergei Ruban: Gorsky

A Borde Film Releasing Corp. release of a Monarch Picture. Director Barry Samson. Producer Jeffrey M. Sneller. Executive producer Samuel S. Sneller. Screenplay by Joyce Warren, Clifford Coleman, Joshua Stallings. Cinematographer Brian Capener. Editor Joshua Stallings. Costumes Svetlana Borborova. Music Emilio Kauderer. Production design Victor Zenkov, Eric Davies. Art director Vitaly Bogulslavsky. Set designer Svyatoslav Gavrilov. Running time: 1 hour, 48 minutes.

MPAA-rated R.

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