It seemed perverse when Fred MacMurray, already well-established as a “nice guy” in family pictures, was hired as the amoral schlub in Billy Wilder’s Double Indemnity. But then casting-against-type is an easy way to reap riches. The rare case where it doesn’t can be found in the twisty indie Thin Ice, formerly known as The Convincer, a factoid that should instantly send alarm bells ringing. Jill Sprecher’s follow-up to 2001’s Thirteen Conversations About One Thing stars Greg Kinnear as a shady midwestern insurance type who opens the film by cynically intoning that “We live in a world of bullshit.” Kinnear has spent his career establishing himself as a lovable type—oftentimes a lovable fool—with an intensely welcoming smile. He can be sleazy (as in What Planet Are You From?) and he can alternate between sleazy and nice (he was born to play Bob Crane in Auto Focus). But a smooth blend is beyond his powers, and the mix is utterly off for a character trying to rip off an old coot and cover up an accidental murder.
To be fair, the script—by Sprecher and her sister Karen—chickens out on making Kinnear’s Mickey Prohaska thoroughly disreputable. Turns out Mickey has motivation: He’s in the midst of a nasty separation and pending divorce from his wife (Lea Thompson—yes, the same) that is draining his funds. The discovery that new, batty client Gorvy (Alan Arkin) owns an antique violin worth a bundle drives him to the kind of crime that should be simple, but which instead yields complications, including an unwanted co-conspirator in Randy (Billy Crudup, amusingly wigged-out), an actually shady security system installer with a bad haircut.
The gears of the Sprechers’ script, once they quite belatedly get moving, are not unpleasurable. There’s a fun stretch in the middle where Mickey finds himself inundated with unforeseen problems, some clever, others irksomely lazy in their screenwriting, as when one character suddenly reveals himself to be what could be labeled a convenient psycho. Of course, this is all building to one master climactic mega-twist, a hair-pin turn that would have been more excusable with a more believable anti-hero.