It is fascinating to imagine Liam Neeson’s management team contemplating his next movie. Maybe “Uber Express”? Perhaps “Uber Express”?
Neeson and cars are symbiotic. Not only is it cars (“Non-Stop”) but also planes (“The Commuter”) suburban commuter trains (“The Commuter”) snowplows (“Cold Pursuit”)).
Now, “The Ice Road,” this improbably pushing 70-year-old durable action hero is behind the wheel of a big truck. It’s not your average truck. But it’s a 65,000-pound truck. Of course, not on regular roads. Ice roads refers to frozen lakes and oceans. One wrong move can send you into the freezing depths.
Neeson is able to lend his rough-hewn dignity even to the most innocuous plots. You only need to know three things: Good guys and bad guys — there is no subtlety — and that ice can melt in sunlight. Did you get it?
Jonathan Hensleigh directs the latest installment of the Neeson vehicle canon. Neeson plays Mike McCann, a long haul trucker and caretaker for his brother Gurty, a veteran of war who suffers from PTSD. Mike has had only 11 jobs in his eight-year career and is now fired for making fun of his brother’s war induced aphasia. His luck could be changing.
A methane explosion causes a mine of diamonds to burst in remote Manitoba, Canada. It kills eight people and traps 26 others. Rescuers will need a wellhead to access the 30-hour oxygen window. Trucks are the only way to transport the wellhead to and from the mine.
This is April and the roads to the mine are melting. This is a suicide mission that no trucker would attempt.
Almost no trucker, actually.
Mike responds to Jim Goldenrod’s alert, an organizer of the impossible rescue. He offers his driving skills (yes Neeson still has some special skills) and Gurty (Marcus Thomas), as an ace mechanic. Soon, the duo are hired. They are joined by Goldrenrod (Laurence Fishburne, who is sadly underused here), and Tantoo (Amber Midthunder), who is a young driver who is more concerned with personal matters than financial. Her brother is trapped in the mine.
One more passenger is in the three-rig convoy: An insurance man from the mine company, apparently needed for his actuarial skills. (Benjamin Walker’s considerable acting abilities aren’t really used here, if that’s not too obvious).
We know right away who the good guys are, especially Mike and Gurty in a film that is heavy on the scenery but neglects to develop their backstory and character. We quickly learn who the bad guys really are. They’re as cartoonish as they come. The ice is thick, but it’s getting thinner. This could be a description of the plot, if one wants to pick low-hanging fruits from the tree of puns.
The lyrics to the Johnny Cash song, “All I Do is Drive, Drive,, Drive” (sung here by Jason Isbell) offer more low-hanging fruits. “Try and stay alive.” While you may be thinking about these lyrics while Neeson’s Mike drives, drive, drives, drive, you might also think about the “alive” part.
Because Neeson’s endurance as an action hero is more impressive with each passing year. He’s getting older, more brittler, paler, and there’s no hint of a love interest. Unless you include Mike’s genuine love for his brother, which is the only relationship in the script. He does the job, and is the reason you should watch this, just as Mike.
The Motion Picture Association of America has rated “The Ice Road” PG-13 for its strong language and violent sequences. Running time: 103 mins. Two stars out four.