Since 2008’s Taken, Liam Neeson has more than established his action hero bona fides after previously demonstrating his talent as a dramatic actor in films like Schindler’s List. Unfortunately, Netflix’s The Ice Road won’t burnish his legacy in either category, as even Neeson can’t make this poorly executed action thriller exciting.
Neeson plays a gruff manly man named Mike who serves as caretaker to his disabled veteran brother, Gurty (Marcus Thomas). After a mine in Manitoba collapses trapping over 20 workers underground, Mike and Gurty respond to a call for truckers to traverse Northern Canada’s ice roads to deliver the equipment necessary to rescue them. The trip would be hazardous under the best of circumstances, but it’s long into spring, making conditions even more dangerous. Plus, the miners are rapidly running out of air, leaving very little room for error during the lengthy drive. Needless to say, a few hours after Mike and Gurty start off along with fellow big-rig drivers Goldenrod (Laurence Fishburne) and Tantoo (Amber Midthunder), things begin to go awry.
If only all the obstacles that stand in Mike and the other characters’ way were more compelling. There are a few sequences where the ice bends, cracks and breaks as the drivers attempt to escape with their lives and their cargo that do a good job establishing the peril of the ice road. However, the film spends much more time on another threat to the drivers cooked up by a seeming legion of dastardly men, including Ben Walker’s Varnay, who don’t want them to reach their destination. Not only does the sheer number of people involved in — and passionately committed to — this conspiracy seem improbable, this is what leads to most of The Ice Road‘s action. It’s here that the movie falls woefully short.
There are multiple, poorly staged fights inside the cabin of a big rig that are challenging to follow and less than gripping to watch. Furthermore, when Neeson’s character goes up against one of the bad guys outside his truck in what should be a thrilling set piece, both characters are so clumsy and slow moving, the sequence serves more as a reminder of Neeson’s advancing age. While this may be realistic, it certainly doesn’t make things more interesting. The fact that this is all set to a propulsive score that’s far more lively than much of what’s happening onscreen only serves to further underline just how underwhelming the action is
It’s also hard to care about what happens when all the characters are so poorly drawn. Mike is barely more than a doodle and his loyalty to his brother is his defining trait. The relationship between Mike and Gurty is supposed to be the heart of the film, but despite over 40 minutes of set up showing the brothers’ lives before they head to Canada, the reason for their devotion to one another is never well established. So even though Neeson gives it his all in several emotional moments, the sentiment feels unearned. Most of the other characters are even more poorly fleshed out, defined by only a trait or two, at best. Midthunder’s Tantoo fares the worst of all in this mix as even the other characters don’t see her as anything more than young, female, and indigenous.
In the end, while The Ice Road seems like it should offer a certain amount of hokey fun, writer and director Jonathan Hensleigh has instead crafted a plodding bore of a film that’s a hokey disappointment.