Review: ‘The Ice Road’ combines Liam Neeson, a heavy truck, thin ice and a look of determination
Nope, despite a desperate Liam Neeson in winter gear driving something, “The Ice Road” is not a sequel to 2019’s “Cold Pursuit.” And at no point does he drop someone into an icy lake and growl, “Revenge is a dish — best served cold.” There’s a minimum of Neeson-fu (just a skosh), but he does get to show off another very specific set of skills: those of a long-haul truck driver.
The setup: An explosion causes a cave-in, trapping more than 25 Canadian miners. They have about 30 hours of oxygen. Massive, heavy pipes and a well head are needed to save them, and for some reason, the equipment must be driven there (instead of, say, disassembled and airlifted) over frozen lakes with surfaces that can’t take that kind of weight for long. Enter Neeson. His down-on-his-luck trucker Mike has just been fired for knocking out someone who bullied his brother, Gurty (Marcus Thomas). Gurty’s an ace mechanic and Iraq War vet with a specific brand of PTSD — he’s timid and can’t communicate, although later he isn’t perturbed after any number of near-death scrapes.
A guy named Goldenrod (Laurence Fishburne, billed as “and,” so temper your expectations) assembles a crack team of fearless truckers to save the miners: In addition to himself, Mike and Gurty, there is Tantoo, a young Cree woman (Amber Midthunder) whom Goldenrod has bailed out of jail and whose brother happens to be one of the trapped miners. We got us a convoy!
One of the pleasures of “The Ice Road” is seeing bits of research come to life: details truckers would know that the rest of us wouldn’t. Sometimes, though, the know-how bits are filmed so it’s hard to see what they’re doing — I was curious how truckers right rigs after they’ve tipped over; these pros shrug it off, but we don’t get a good look at how they fix the problem. By the way, if the setup of “ordinary Joes called on to do something heroic with their ordinary know-how” sounds familiar, writer-director Jonathan Hensleigh is one of the scribes of “Armageddon” (among many others, including 1995’s “Jumanji” and “Die Hard With a Vengeance”).
Without spoiling anything, the movie only briefly goes down the “Wages of Fear"/"Sorcerer” road of a terrifyingly hazardous haul; it instead takes another action path. There are a fair number of improbable moments, but if you selected a movie whose one-sheet was a worried-looking Neeson and a truck on a cracking sheet of ice, you likely weren’t looking for a documentary.
Midthunder’s portrayal of a tough young woman is notable. The film nods at a few real-world sociopolitical notions: corporate greed, First Nations protests, negative assumptions likely influenced by race — but nothing stops those big wheels from rolling for long. However, the film lacks slam-bang, signature action sequences that would make it more memorable.
'The Ice Road'
Rating: PG-13, for strong language and sequences of action and violence
Running time: 1 hour, 43 minutes
Playing: Available June 25 on Netflix
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