Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Icy May (& SyFy vs. The Mynd): Ice Road Terror (2011)

We agents of M.O.S.S. defy your oppressive assumptions about seasons in the northern hemisphere. To prove you (yes you!) wrong, May will be all about ice, snow and everything cold for us. Everything is better in winter, after all. What better way for me to begin this exciting venture than by taking a look at those Alaskan heroes, ice road truckers?

Little do Alaskan ice road truckers and best buddies Jack (Ty Olsson) and Neil (Dylan Neal) expect their final haul of the season before the ice road is melting to be quite as dangerous. Sure, having one of two trucks full of explosives, and environmental scientist Rachel (Brea Grant) as part of their load while the road they're driving on is already turning to slush sure sounds interesting and dangerous enough, but it's also - except for the scientist - all in a normal day's work for the two guys.

However, things that happen at the site our heroes are driving to are a bit out of the ordinary. I do at least assume it's not an every day occurrence up in the icy north for illegal blasting operations to free a living and very hungry specimen of a giant lizard from Inuit legend that may or may not belong to the dinosaur species called "Predator X" (environmental scientists know just about everything). The lizard proceeds to eat everyone it finds (apart from two characters needed for exposition to our heroes, obviously) Soon enough, our protagonist trio find themselves in a race against the ill-mannered CGI beast, the weather, and everything else the script can come up with.

It's not difficult to imagine the thought processes that led SyFy Channel executives to this one. Everyone, they must have thought, loves ice road truckers (a phenomenon I only ever realized is a phenomenon thanks to the movie) and everyone likes Wages of Fear, so filming a variation of the movie taking place in Alaska (or "British Columbia", as we call it) and adding an evil giant lizard to it really must have been a no-brainer. And honestly, they weren't wrong about this one.

As TV veteran (a guy with particularly many films with the word "Christmas" in their title, so at the very least an expert in filming the best white thing I know, snow) director Terry Ingram films it, Ice Road Terror is a perfectly great little movie based on a perfect low budget movie idea. Ingram doesn't linger on the weaknesses - see all my reviews of all SyFy movies ever - of his CGI monster too much, and stages a few surprisingly dynamic monster attack and truck stunt scenes that are really rather on the exciting - if physically dubious - side.

After about half of the movie is through, Ice Road Terror turns into a more typical "characters hole up in a hut and try to keep the monster out" film, which may sound a bit disappointing but is actually a good decision. There is, after all, only so much cheap action you can stage with two trucks, ice, snow, and a giant CGI lizard before things start to get boring and repetitive. The change of pace also gives the movie space to include Michael "Colonel Tigh" Hogan and Merrilyn Gann in rather delightful performances as owners of the only truck stop in in ice road county, which helps with characterization as well as providing opportunity for a smidgen of gore.

When Ice Road Terror doesn't spend its time on the lizard action - and this is a movie going out of its way to include as much as possible of said lizard action - it does the expected clichéd character work in a perfectly likeable manner, assisted by a cast full of perfectly likeable actors being, well, perfectly likeable.

Surely, that's more than anyone can expect from a movie that marries Wages of Fear, the working class romanticism of idealized trucker-dom, and a frigging giant lizard.

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