Working the long con and damn near getting away with it, this kissing cousin to Fargo, Cedar Rapids, and Win Win makes for a surprisingly entertaining and nonderivative February time-passer, its wretched mid-winter Wisconsin setting notwithstanding. (Minnesota subs in convincingly.) Greg Kinnear steps out of incredulous do-gooding sad-sack mode to play Mickey Prohaska, an independent insurance agent, low-level sociopath, and burgeoning grand larcenist. Thanks to a helpful but gormless colleague (David Harbour), Mickey foists a policy on seemingly naïve farm widower Gorvy (Alan Arkin, doing his funny-accent thing), who happens to own a million-dollar violin he knows nothing about. Things go sour when Mickey’s attempt to steal the fiddle is fatally complicated by loudmouth psycho locksmith Randy (Billy Crudup) and continue to devolve despite—or because of—a sweet claim payoff from the agency home office.
There’s nothing in Thin Ice that hasn’t been done before, and it’s far from eye candy, but director Jill Sprecher (who last helmed 2001’s Thirteen Conversations About One Thing) gets impressively loose, funny but respectful performances from her cast and generally keeps the film moving along briskly. Until it, like Mickey’s plan, crumbles under the weight of its own contrivances, that is; suffice to say that nothing—as the opening voiceover telegraphs—is quite what it seems. Fair enough for off-season but ending the movie with a protracted, mostly verbal explanation of the ways in which we’ve been duped somewhat erodes the goodwill Thin Ice has built and accentuates its many improbabilities to boot. All the climactic chitchat, it turns out, isn’t unlike having Randy unload one of his screeching hissy fits in your ear and provides a clue as to why most con-man flicks favor the swindler’s point of view.