Seen by Martin before? No
What did I expect? A cheesy heist movie!
What did I get? I was looking forward to Lady Ice, by all appearances a slinky, suspenseful, and cheeseball caper movie starring the usually splendid Donald Sutherland. Boy, was I disappointed; it calls to mind the phrase “justly forgotten.” Sweaty, plodding, poorly lit, and poorly mic’d, Lady Ice is basically a 90-minute episode of, I don’t know, Vega$ — only without the zazz. Curiously, Elmore Leonard has written precisely this sort of caper several times, even using the same setting of Miami, but Elmore knows what he’s doing.
In Lady Ice, Sutherland plays Andy Hammond, an insolent, slacker-y private eye who works for insurance companies on diamond cases, and he gets mixed up with the beautiful daughter of this fence for illicit goods who’s some kind of big deal (corporate office, nice suit). The idea of the movie is that Hammond puts himself a bit too far out on a limb, so he’s no longer protected by the insurance companies, and you’re not supposed to know if he’s still on the side of right or not. However, nothing in the movie ever builds, and you’re never really sure what’s going on at any given point. The high points of the movie are a brief and under-explained bank heist in Chicago (nothing else in the movie happens in Chicago) and a nifty underwater sequence off the coast of the Bahamas. In other words, the movie’s not horrible in the two scenes without dialogue.
Sutherland is a good actor, of course, but he needs space to breathe. Lady Ice is too tightly wound for him to succeed, he can’t find any rhythm. Pretty Jennifer O’Neill is no help at all; she’s a blank, an attractive facade whose mystique dissipates every time she opens her mouth. In Summer of ’42, which was bad, she was the object of an adolescent’s idealization, which made of her empty good looks an asset. (Even there, she was a bit too incredible to be believed.) As a cunning femme fatale type, she’s at sea, accentuating the movie’s lack of focus in every scene she’s in.
Lady Ice has a lazy, cheap feel. The camera is never in the right place, and scenes that require cross-cutting are often done in a single (handheld) take. The idea of Sutherland’s character is that he’s a mixture of two things — the shifty and the straight — but it’s Duvall, in his brief turn as a local police detective, who more successfully conveys a split nature, combining his upright obligations to society and his complex mistrust of the putatively charming Hammond. Sutherland is all tan, lanky innuendo, which you would think would work in a piece like this, but there’s not that much else to fill it out. Duvall has a natural gravity and force that allows him to barrel through the movie intact. In the end, Sutherland doesn’t really have the magnetism of a dashing, devil-may-care hero. He is much better as a sympathetic nice guy, as in Ordinary People, or a gleeful bad guy.
What here smacks of 1973? The emphasis on automobiles.
IMDB score: 4.7
My score: 2
Director: Tom Gries
Writers: Harold Clements and Alan Trustman
Starring: Donald Sutherland, Jennifer O’Neill, Robert Duvall, Patrick Magee, Jon Cypher, Buffy Dee, Eric Braeden
IMDB synopsis: An insurance investigator romances a wealthy young beauty when he suspects she may be involved in fencing stolen jewels.