“Now I’m angry!” Mike McCann (Liam Neeson) hisses halfway through “The Ice Road,” signaling the moment we’ve been waiting for. As any Neeson watcher will tell you, you don’t mess with his action characters once their dander is up.
Sadly, Neeson’s dander is no match for a hackneyed plot, poorly visualized stunts and characters whose behavior can defy common sense. They have plenty of opportunity in a setup that sends three eighteen-wheelers charging across a thawing Lake Winnipeg, bound for a diamond mine in Northern Manitoba. A methane explosion has trapped the miners, they’re running out of oxygen and the equipment needed to effect a rescue weighs more than 30 tons.
Driving identical payloads (to ensure action-movie redundancy), Mike and his fellow big-riggers — played by Laurence Fishburne and the delightful Amber Midthunder, whose character can barely see over the steering wheel — endure storm and avalanche, cracking ice and saboteurs. Cuts to the lolling miners deflate the film’s momentum, as does a sappy subplot involving Mike’s brother (Marcus Thomas), a veteran struggling with P.T.S.D.
Written and directed by Jonathan Hensleigh, “The Ice Road” musters more tension than credibility. Despite the valorous efforts of all involved — the movie was filmed without the use of a green screen — the action is at times incomprehensible. In one scene, two trucks capsize and are righted, seemingly in minutes, with barely a glimpse of a winch or a traction pad. And in another, lives are risked in an insane attempt to retrieve a sinking truck that, we have already been informed, is expendable. The poor souls gasping their last in that mine would have been better off waiting for the cast of “Ice Road Truckers.”
The Ice Road
Rated PG-13 for attack by gun, snowmobile, vegetation and frozen water. Running time: 1 hour 43 minutes. Watch on Netflix.