-By Daniel Eagan

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It's a long way from Groundhog Day to The Ice Harvest, a mean-spirited adaptation of a crime novel by Scott Phillips. While it's being promoted as a Harold Ramis comedy, only hard-core film buffs and misanthropes are likely to find the film amusing.

Set in a mostly dingy Wichita Falls, the film opens as mob lawyer Charlie (John Cusack) and his partner Vic (Billy Bob Thornton) steal over two million dollars from a Kansas City crime lord named Bill (Randy Quaid). For reasons the script never makes adequately clear, the two can't leave town until morning, enough time for a contract killer (Mike Starr) to pick up their trail.

Not wanting to be seen together, the two split up, with Vic going off on a dinner date. Charlie visits a succession of strip joints, where he eventually tells club manager Renata (Connie Nielsen) about his heist. Charlie also hooks up with Pete (Oliver Platt), a friend who coincidentally married Charlie's ex-wife.

As the liquor flows and sleet blankets the city, Charlie grapples with his partner, his ex-wife, the contract killer, a cop who is trying to join the mob, a bartender with anger-management issues, and his boss, leaving a trail of corpses and body parts behind. Getting out of Wichita Falls alive will depend on cunning and luck as well as double-crosses.

Despite a sturdy cast and a script by genre pros Robert Benton and Richard Russo, it's hard to shake the feeling that everyone here is slumming. Cusack's boyish charm works against his role as a mob mouthpiece, especially as characters keep insisting that he's mean and untrustworthy when it's clear that he isn't. Thornton and Quaid are effective, but hardly around long enough to make much of a difference. The standout here is Oliver Platt, uproarious as a self-loathing architect. He turns in the best drunk scenes since Sideways, but also hints at a much more interesting film than its tired noir trappings allow.

Ramis, who has variously directed, produced, written and acted in many of the key comedies of the past 30 years, proves here that he can dish sleaze as well as any B-movie director. Why he would want to is the biggest mystery surrounding The Ice Harvest.

-Daniel Eagan

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