The role of Mickey Prohaska, a Wisconsin insurance salesman whose winning smile hides a loser's desperation, is a perfect one for Greg Kinnear. He's an actor who often uses his game-show good looks to play convincing phonies, from the uptight life coach in "Little Miss Sunshine" to a government shill in "Green Zone." As Mickey in "Thin Ice," an intricately plotted noir, Kinnear strikes just the right notes of humor, horror and sympathy as his character's false facade gradually wears away.
If only the film were as good as Kinnear. "Thin Ice" pitches itself as a black comedy full of loopy Midwesterners, but it's a vague shadow of the Coen Brothers' "Fargo," an obvious inspiration. Its humor falls just shy of quirky, and its menace feels mild.
That's a shame, because Kinnear is one of several fine actors in "Thin Ice." Alan Arkin (also of "Little Miss Sunshine") plays Gorvy Hauer, a doddering oldster unaware that his junky old violin is worth $1 million; Billy Crudup ("Almost Famous") is Randy, an ex-con who reluctantly helps Mickey steal it.
Supporting players include Bridgehampton's Bob Balaban as a squirrelly violin dealer and David Harbour ("Revolutionary Road") as Mickey's clueless co-worker. Lea Thompson, little-noticed since "Some Kind of Wonderful" but still busy (she briefly appeared in "J. Edgar"), plays Mickey's estranged wife.
With all this talent, plus a script full of twists and turns, what's the problem? The blame lies with director and co-writer Jill Sprecher ("Clockwatchers"), who keeps an oddly easygoing pace throughout, even when a dead body is being diced and dumped into a frozen lake. Crudup's potentially violent Randy raises the energy level, but he's still more talk than action. Even the score, by Jeff Danna ("The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus"), feels incongruously pleasant. Kinnear, as good as he is, can't save this movie by himself.
PLOT A small-scale scam by a Midwestern insurance salesman turns deadly. RATING R (violence, language, brief sexuality)
PLAYING AT Malverne Cinema 4
BOTTOM LINE Nice work from the talented Kinnear, but he's wasted in this bland, mild-mannered imitation of "Fargo."