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Nicolas Cage, John Cusack Get Buried in ‘The Frozen Ground’

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Average: 3 (2 votes)
HollywoodChicago.com Oscarman rating: 2.0/5.0
Rating: 2.0/5.0

CHICAGO – There have been a depressing number of bad career choices on the part of Oscar winner Nicolas Cage and once-great actor John Cusack in recent years. Anyone seen “Seeking Justice,” “Stolen,” “The Numbers Station,” or “The Factory”? Someone owes you an apology. The latest entry that merges these two titans of recent B-movies is “The Frozen Ground,” premiering On Demand and in limited release tomorrow, August 23, 2013. With a strong supporting cast and a few interesting procedural elements, Scott Walker’s drama isn’t the disaster as some of the other Cage or Cusack bombs but it still fails due to some poor creative and casting decisions before a lick of film was even shot.

Based on the true story of a serial killer, “The Frozen Ground” is the story of an investigation that hinged, as so many of these often do, on the one that lived. Cindy Paulson (Vanessa Hudgens), a stripper and prostitute, escapes the grip of Robert Hansen (John Cusack), a man who we quickly learn has killed a number of similar girls across the Northwest. Hansen is one of those average-looking guys, a seemingly normal part of his community complete with a family of his own, who just happens to hire hookers and kill them. Investigator Jack Holcombe gets to Paulson and convinces her to help the police track this elusive killer. A remarkably talented supporting cast, including Dean Norris (“Breaking Bad”), Radha Mitchell, Kevin Dunn, Michael McGrady, Kurt Fuller, and even 50 Cent fill out this mystery-drama ensemble in ways that I’m sure looked engaging on paper. On film, it’s a different story.

The Frozen Ground
The Frozen Ground
Photo credit: LionsGate

There are so many ways that a filmmaker could tell the story of the capture of Robert Hansen. At some point, Walker clearly made a decision to focus on the victims by concentrating so much dramatic energy on Hudgens. It was not the right call. Not only is Hudgens woefully miscast as a junkie stripper, never once believable in the darkness required for that kind of role, but focusing so much on Cindy drains the story of its power. We never get to know the hero or villain of the piece, spending bizarre amounts of time with the woman stuck between them.

The focus on Cindy’s profession and daily life also creates an icky, exploitative feel to the thing, especially during Hudgens’ stripping scenes. I think more of this film takes place in an actual club than “Striptease.” And watching Cage constantly fight with Hudgens to get her cooperation doesn’t have the dramatic tension that Walker needs to propel the piece forward. We know she’ll eventually give in. We know Hansen got caught. There’s no movie otherwise.

The Frozen Ground
The Frozen Ground
Photo credit: LionsGate

When the film gets back to its procedural core, there are elements that work. The inevitable showdown scene between Cage and Cusack works but it’s too little, too late. A vast majority of “The Frozen Ground” feels unfocused, flitting back and forth from separate Cage, Cusack, and Hudgens arcs without forming them into one vision. One begins to think about how many days these notable stars even worked on the film and question the decisions that led them to these bizarre phases in their career. When a thriller forces one to consider bad recent films from its stars, it’s not working.

“The Frozen Ground” stars Nicolas Cage, John Cusack, and Vanessa Hudgens. It premieres On Demand tomorrow, August 23, 2013, and opens in limited release on the same date.

HollywoodChicago.com content director Brian Tallerico

By BRIAN TALLERICO
Content Director
HollywoodChicago.com
brian@hollywoodchicago.com

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