27 November 2005 | tghoneyc
Make no mistake, this isn't a comedy...
I had heard this movie described as a black comedy by some. And when one thinks of Harold Ramis, they think of his ingenious work as a director of comedies. But this is a different Harold Ramis. What he has fashioned is "film noir" all the way.
John Cusack works perfectly with the material, not so much in a Humphrey Bogart kind of way as in a Fred MacMurray sort of way. He's the average guy protagonist. He just happens to be a Witchita attorney for a Kansas City political boss.
The film begins when Charlie Arglist (Cusack), with over two million in stolen cash, jumps into the car with partner-in-crime Vic Cavanaugh (Billy Bob Thornton). Throughout the evening Charlie encounters strip club owner Renata (Connie Nielsen) and drunken colleague Pete Van Heuten (Oliver Platt, his fist scene-stealer in a number of years).
The character of Pete offers some great comic relief to the story. He's Charlie's best friend, drunk on Christmas Eve. He's also married to Charlie's ex-wife, and hating it. This leads to an awkward encounter with Charlie's kids and former in-laws.
Thornton is still finding new ways of being corrupt and amoral. Connie Nielsen is a classic femme fatal in the 1940s style. Mike Starr is good as usual, playing a menacing mob enforcer. Randy Quaid does his usual best as Kansas City mobster Bill Guerarrd. And bit player Ned Bellamy, cast as a strip club bouncer with Mom issues adds some fine scenes.
This is about the most straight-forward "noir" I've seen since Lawrence Kasdan's "Body Heat," but as directed by Ramis, it feels slightly like a Coen brothers movie, with the occasional comic twists to the genre, and the casting choices of Thornton ("The Man Who Wasn't There") and Starr ("Miller's Crossing").
It's not the best movie of the year. But it's good for people who aren't so anxious for a "white" Christmas.