The icy fatalism of film noir is turned to slush by Thin Ice, a crime saga that reduces its chosen genre to a series of atonal, old-hat clichés. Following the route charted by Sam Raimi’s far superior A Simple Plan and the work of the Coen brothers, director Jill Sprecher sets her tale in the snowy locale of Kenosha, Wisconsin, where insurance salesman Mickey (Greg Kinnear) toils away trying to make ends meet by hook or by crook, all while also endeavoring to win back the affections of his estranged spouse (Lea Thompson). His luck apparently takes a turn for the better when, after stealing away suspiciously super-friendly rookie agent Bob (David Harbour) from a competitor, he lucks into older client Gorvy (Alan Arkin), who in his ramshackle home happens to have a violin valued at $30,000—or, as is later claimed, $1.25 million. As expected, too-good-to-be-true scams like the one Mickey concocts to snatch and sell the violin for his own gain (and to pay back his wife, from whom he stole money) are naturally destined for complications, and those arrive soon enough in the form of alarm-system installer Randy (Billy Crudup), who after being caught with Mickey breaking into Gorvy’s home, commits murder and then compels Mickey to help cover up the crime and sell the violin with him.
For the film’s opening passages, Kinnear, working from a script that grows less confident and focused as it develops, adequately conveys Mickey’s unctuous self-interest and amorality. Yet the character is so clearly not only a man in over his head, but a patsy being duped in one of those only-in-the-movies ruses, that Thin Ice quickly petrifies into caricature. One abrupt plot development after another reveals the material’s gotcha-finale intentions, and as such there’s no suspense to whether Mickey will dig his way out of the hole he increasingly finds himself in once his plans go south and Randy becomes an increasingly unhinged partner-in-crime.
Saddled with such transparent material, the cast turns in uniformly broad performances, from Arkin’s half-senile, heavily accented routine to Kinnear’s one-note desperation, which the story ultimately doesn’t even bother to satisfyingly resolve, instead opting for a conclusion that’s faux-cute without being coherent. Only Crudup, exhibiting a violent spazziness that’s completely out of line with the rest of the more subdued, wannabe-Fargo shenanigans, seems the least bit invested in making something distinctive out of this collection of shopworn crime-film tropes; his sudden, violent obliteration of an ice cream cone on a car dashboard is the sole moment when Thin Ice breaks through conventionality to reveal something resembling a dangerous heart.