Remember those 80’s and 90’s movies where the movie studios picked a topic like skydiving, mountain climbing or surfing and then went ahead and gave us movies like Drop Zone, Cliffhanger and Point Break? The Ice Road is basically one of those movies, except this time the topic is ice road truckers and the dangers of driving across – funnily enough – icy roads.
Even though this action thriller has inferior special effects compared to those examples and a story far more basic and predictable, it makes up for these shortcomings thanks to plenty of ass-kicking from Liam Neeson and educating me about a world of truck driving work I had no idea even existed.
After both being fired from the same employer, Mike McCann (Liam Neeson) and his brother Gurty (Marcus Thomas) are looking for work. A high paying gig presents itself to the brothers after an explosion traps 26 miners in Manitoba, Canada. Jim Goldenrod (Laurence Fishburne) desperately needs experienced ice road truckers to deliver three wellheads to the mine in order to save the miners before their oxygen runs out.
There’s just one catch: this highly lucrative job means they’ll be driving out of season, meaning navigating their rigs over the ice will be extremely dangerous. Possibly deadly.
Not long into the trip, things start to go wrong and the team of drivers realize there are additional dangers they’ll face on top of having their rigs fall through the ice. Someone is trying to stop them from completing their mission and are prepared to kill them in order to stop the trucks from reaching their destination. But what the bad guys don’t know is that Mike is played by Liam Neeson and we all know he possesses a particular set of skills… skills he has acquired over a very long career… skills that make him a nightmare for people like the bad guys.
I’m a big fan of Liam Neeson but I’ll admit this role isn’t much of a stretch for him. We’ve seen him play this character type before and that’s fine. I came to see big trucks fall through ice and watch Neeson beat the crap out of the bad guys, and I wasn’t disappointed. There’s an attempt to give his character some depth by having him protect his disabled brother Gurty (Marcus Thomas), an Iraqi War vet suffering from PTSD and aphasia, but it’s nothing extraordinary or memorable.
Neeson’s co-stars also give pretty average performances across the board. Laurence Fishburne has a few cool moments but he could’;ve easily been replaced by a no-name actor and it wouldn’t make a difference. Marcus Thomas is reasonably convincing playing someone living with a mental disability, though he does do a great job adding a childlike innocence tone to his performance.
Amber Midthunder plays one of the drivers, Tantoo, and is just kind of there even though she’s meant to be a tough girl. Even the main villain – I won’t say who to avoid spoilers – is pretty forgettable. It’s not to say I didn’t enjoy their acting or that it deterred from the overall film, it’s just they didn’t exactly add much to the movie either.
Writer and Director Jonathan Hensleigh (Kill the Irishman, The Punisher) has made a run-of-the mill action thriller that’s reasonably fun to watch but never quite excels, either. Thank goodness he’s got the starpower and visual spectacle that comes with seeing big rigs drive over ice and sinking into frozen lakes, otherwise you might get bored quickly. With extremely sub-par and laughable CGI for 2021 (even for Netflix), The Ice Road at times feels like a straight-to-VHS/DVD movie.
Fortunately, there’s plenty of action and frozen visual spectacle to forgive the obvious lack of budget and lack of story. Hensleigh has included scenes that showcase the characters’ mechanical know-how in order to overcome the obstacles they faced on the ice which in those moments made the action more interesting.
The Ice Road isn’t a great film, but it’s not a bad one, either. With laughably bad CGI effects and a pretty basic story coupled with predictably obvious bad guys, this isn’t a movie for those looking for substance or quality. It doesn’t have to be, especially for fans expecting to see Liam Neeson iterate on his modern tough guy persona (and do it well). Even if you’re not a fan, you may enjoy the frozen spectacle of seeing big rigs facing icy obstacles in what could be called the poor man’s Mad Max: Fury Road.