The Ice Road (2021)

No, this is not a movie adaptation of History Channel’s Ice Road Truckers series, though it is about as realistic.

Twenty-six miners end up trapped in a Manitoba diamond mine after a methane pocket explodes. With the miners running out of air, local companies and the Canadian government attempt to send in three wellheads to vent out methane so the miners can be recovered. Unfortunately, air transport is a no go, so a local trucking company is asked to deliver the wellheads across an ice road…in April, a month after it is considered safe to travel. Enter Liam Neeson playing trucker Mike McCann, a down-on-his-luck trucker with a brother named Gurty who suffers from severe PTSD. They sign up for the job alongside indigenous activist Tantoo, played by Amber Midthunder. Laurence Fishburne rounds out the trio of drivers, though he only received an “and” in the credits, so you know he’ll die in the first half hour. Also attached is a corporate insurance rep Varnay, played by the vampire killing Abraham Lincoln star Benjamin Walker. Of course, evil corporate machinations abound, shenanigans involving the weather occur, and there is a time limit in play, so this movie isn’t exactly a milk run. But it’s got Liam Neeson, and he’s got a particular set of skills, so we all know it’s gonna be all right.

I do love Liam Neeson movies. Ever since Taken released in 2008, he’s had a whole new career as the action star equivalent of dad rock. It’s like his movies are designed for baby boomers to watch and shout how they’ve still got it while shaking their fists at the TV and the damn kids on the lawn. Sure, the likes of Schwarzenegger, Stallone, Van Damme, Gibson, and Seagal are still pumping out movies (quality notwithstanding), and even Norris will pop up in the occasional TV show, but Neeson? He’s found a whole new career trajectory kicking butt and pleasing the geriatrics. Long gone are the days in which he pranced about with his fellow merry men in Krull. Though I do miss those days too.

That said, he’s up against a few issues here: a predictable plot, terrible CGI, and a soundtrack composed of a bunch of trucker songs that sound like the limited set list in Redneck Rampage. Yes, the first person shooter about rednecks gunning down aliens and eating pork rinds. I make no apologies. In fact, if you like trucker songs, The Ice Road will probably have you pumping your fist in the air and leave you craving the next Lynyrd Skynyrd concert tour. And if you don’t like those kinds of songs, well…the soundtrack is a little one note. Folks, you’ve been warned.

Plot also isn’t something that should be overly concerning, because let’s face it, it’s a Liam Neeson movie released straight to Netflix involving eighteen wheelers. While it’s no Smokey and the Bandit, this sort of movie would still fit right in during a marathon of trucking movies. Follow it up with Breaker! Breaker! and you’ve got a cinematic gold mine. The Aliens-style corporate douche also helps fit the pro-blue collar theme. What, did I ruin the film by telling you the corporate guy was the villain? Hell no, I didn’t! This is a movie where a Black man, an Indigenous woman, and a vet with PTSD and his violent caretaking brother are driving semis across ice roads to help out other blue collar miners trapped in a corporate diamond mine. Of course the corporate douche is the villain! How more obvious could it be?!

Unfortunately, the bad CGI is where I do have to fault the film. Not because it’s just bad, but because it’s SyFy Channel Original bad. The visual effects budget must have been spent on bobbleheads and a broken leg sequence, because what’s left is cartoonish avalanches and ice cracks. Even good CGI can run into this problem sometimes, but when it’s bad, I feel like I’m watching a cheap Saturday morning cartoon. That said, I’d still rather watch this than Michael Bay’s Transformers films, because at least The Ice Road is just laughable and not headache-inducing.

Plus, The Ice Road has creative pedigree. It was written by Jonathan Hensleigh, his first film in a decade since he put out Kill the Irishman (which did not contain Liam Neeson). Hensleigh is an unsung hero of 1990s action films, serving as the writer for such titles as Die Hard with a Vengeance, The Saint, uncredited work on Con Air (which he also produced), and…several Michael Bay films. You know what? One of them was The Rock, arguably Bay at his best, so I’m gonna let this slide. He also directed The Punisher with Thomas Jane and wrote Jumanji. The dude has credit for four films with Nicolas Cage, and if that doesn’t deserve some kind of survival award, I don’t know what does. In short, Hensleigh has had the kind of career we all wish we’d had, and I applaud him.

I also applaud casting actual Indigenous people as Indigenous characters in the film, because those roles could just as easily have gone to white folks and made the whole thing way awkward, like how going back to watch episodes of Bonanza is. Amber Midthunder and Martin Sensmeier both do well in their roles, and I have an appreciation for Midthunder because I was a fan of the TV show Legion and enjoyed her work in it. Don’t judge me.

To sum up, we have an entertaining but cheap and obvious trucker movie set on an ice road that will entertain your dad but also not-so-secretly wears a pro-little guy, anti-capitalist-corruption message on its sleeve. We have the kind of formula that mixes Convoy with a few elements of Alien and still come off as way more realistic than the “reality” shows History Channel is keen to pump out these days. And we get all of it accompanied to Liam Neeson telling folks to kiss his Irish ass, beating up assholes and ignorant pricks, and a soundtrack full of trucker music covers that will make you beg for Dolly Parton renditions of psychobilly songs. In short, yeah, I liked it.

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