Greg Kinnear excels at sleaze, the kind packaged by his the crooked salesman grin he naturally inhabits in “Thin Ice.”
Maybe it’s Kinnear’s lopsided smile, one that draws you in but warns you against it all the same.
The film, out on Blu-ray and DVD this week, casts him as an insurance salesman who can’t stop spinning. The same holds true for the story, which starts in an impressive fashion but falls prey to a bad case of Cleveritis.
Kinnear is Mickey, an insurance salesman keeping his floundering company afloat essentially by himself. His secretary spends her time sifting through Mickey’s lies and half-truths, while Mickey is off telling more tall tales to whoever will listen.
Mickey “hires” a new staffer (David Harbour) so he can lure the man away from another potential employer. Besides, the more people in Mickey’s inner circle, the more ways he can lie, spin and steal.
So when the new guy comes close to reeling in Gorvy (Alan Arkin, also producing), a memory-impaired codger, Mickey swoops in to seal the deal. Mickey learns Gorvy has an old violin that could be worth thousands, if not more, but Gorvy has no idea what its real value is. So Mickey plots to steal it and sell it to save his professional bacon.
Enter Randy (Billy Crudup), a home security system expert working on Gorvy’s property. When Mickey meets Randy it starts a series of mini-tragedies that test Mickey’s ability to spin ’til it hurts. And, this time, he might spin himself into an early grave.
For a good two thirds, “Thin Ice” hums with that awkward energy created whenever a protagonist is trapped but is unwilling to accept his fate. We also get sly supporting characters (played by Bob Balaban and Lea Thompson) and a secretary who knows she’s twice as smart as her boss but suffers along all the same. And Arkin’s Gorvy is a hoot, a gentle soul with just enough smarts remaining to give Mickey agita.
“Thin Ice” eventually stops cold to explain just how smart it really is, alas, and the film never recovers.
Crudup has some marvelous early moments as the security guard with a criminal past, but he’s also allowed to ham it up in a way that de-emphasizes the story’s dynamic tension.
We don’t need all the twists and turns offered in “Thin Ice.” It’s watching Kinnear’s Mickey straining to keep all his lies sorted out that makes the movie memorable.