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Ice Men

Emotions run hot but story blows cold in tale of five buddies whose lives change during a winter weekend. Avoids most of the obvious cliches, yet never generates enough tension or rooting interest. Sports impressive production values, but will quickly skate to cable and homevid after less than a championship season at undemanding fests.

With:
With: Martin Cummins, David Hewlett, Greg Spottiswood, James Thomas, Ian Tracey, Brandy Ledford.

Emotions run hot but story blows cold in “Ice Men.” Tale of five buddies whose lives change during a winter weekend avoids most of the obvious cliches, yet never generates enough tension or rooting interest. Privately financed helming debut from D.P. Thom Best (“Ginger Snaps,” the American version of “Queer as Folk”) sports impressive production values, but will quickly skate to cable and homevid after something less than a championship season at undemanding fests and in limited domestic play.

Having recently broken up with his g.f. and acquired a postcard-rustic lakeside family cabin during the settlement of his father’s estate, hard-charging and foul-tempered lawyer Vaughn (Martin Cummins) decides to throw a birthday party for his buddy Bryan (David Hewlett). Along for the envisioned weekend of hunting and drinking are timid photog Jon (Greg Spottiswood), nervous over some looming business arrangement with Vaughn, and narcissistic fitness instructor Steve (James Thomas), the butt of jokes involving his less-than-bright fiancee.

The first of two uninvited guests is Vaughn’s surly black sheep brother Trevor (Ian Tracey), discovered crawling around under the house. As the empties and recriminations pile up, tensions mount: Jon and Steve impulsively have sex in their shared room and glare at each other for the next two days, Vaughn is haunted by images of his apparently domineering father and riddled with guilt when he actually shoots a deer; and Trevor, who furtively burns and pricks himself when nobody’s looking, reveals a large gambling debt to his hostile younger brother.

Things come to a head with the arrival of Vaughn’s ex, Renee (Brandy Ledford), who promptly jumps into the sack with Bryan. A drunken Trevor tries to drown himself, and Vince comes to terms with his past.

It’s difficult to see the bonds of friendship among these generally self-absorbed men, which may be Best’s point. But, absent genre cliches along the lines of an accidental death or deranged killer, there’s no deliverance from two hours of five unpleasant guys drinking and yelling at each other. Of the quintet, David Hewlett (who had a recurring role on “Stargate Atlantis”) is best as the eccentric Bryan. The cold menace with which Tracey plays Trevor suggests a plot path never taken.

Production designers Melanie Gordon and Michael Turner have created the quintessential backwoods retreat, while Gavin Smith’s widescreen lensing of remote and frozen Ontario locations is bracing.

Ice Men

Canada

Production: A First Frame Films production. (International sales: First Frame Films, Toronto.) Produced by Thom Best, Mihkel Harilaid, Rick Warden. Directed by Thom Best. Screenplay, Michael Lewis MacLennan, from a story by Best.

Crew: Camera (color, widescreen), Gavin Smith; editor, Mike Munn; music, Michael Shields, Russell Broom; production designer, Melanie Gordon, Michael Turner; sound (Dolby Digital). Reviewed at Montreal World Film Festival (Cinema of the Americas -- Panorama Canada), Aug. 29, 2004. Running time: 108 MIN.

With: With: Martin Cummins, David Hewlett, Greg Spottiswood, James Thomas, Ian Tracey, Brandy Ledford.

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