Harry Anders (Michael Caine), a former MI6 agent now running a successful jazz club in London, has a literal run-in with Stacy (Sean Young), the beautiful wife of an American diplomat. With whom he embarks on a torrid affair. On learning of Harry's past life in espionage, Stacy asks for his help dealing with a man seemingly targeting her for blackmail. Yet when Harry enlists a policeman pal to trace the culprit he stumbles onto the aftermath of a double murder leaving both the stranger and his friend dead. With the cops treating him like a suspect and trained killers dogging his every move, Harry becomes embroiled in a deadly conspiracy tied to his own past.
You could rely on Michael Caine to headline a nifty espionage thriller. He'd been doing that since the Sixties. Yet back in 1992 few critics had kind words for either Blue Ice or its star. Many, particularly the British press, dismissed the film Caine co-produced with legendary producer Martin Bregman as a vanity vehicle. At the time Caine's apparent willingness to sign on for any old tat left him something of a running joke in his native land. Happily that soon changed as the Nineties wore on and Caine shifted his career path to character actor, netting his second Oscar and well-deserved status as a national treasure. Viewed in hindsight, Blue Ice seems like a last gasp for classic Caine: the thriller hero and romantic lead (there is The Quiet American (2002) and Harry Brown (2009) of course, but those are very different films). It is possible Bregman and Caine hoped to launch a film series not dissimilar from the latter's famous Sixties spy role as Harry Palmer. That was not to be although the film easily outdoes Caine's subsequent revival of Palmer with the underwhelming Bullet to Beijing (1995) and Midnight in St. Petersburg (1996).
Despite an age-gap with leading lady Sean Young that was much remarked upon even at the time, Blue Ice finds Caine at his most affable and charismatic. Inspired by a series of novels penned by Ted Allbeury, the film trades on the weight of Caine's iconic past, re-christening Allbeury's literary character (originally 'Tad Anders') as a means of alluding to his exploits in The Ipcress File (1965), Funeral in Berlin (1966) and Billion Dollar Brain (1967) and tipping its hat to his real-life status as a British cultural hero. If the plot ambles laboriously through its first act set-up, Caine remains very much in his element as the real-life entrepreneur lords it up at his club (whose house band includes famed cabaret singer Bobby Short, Rolling Stones drummer Charlie Watts and soundtrack composer Michael Kamen!) celebrating his love of jazz, outwits minor thugs and corrupt coppers alike in true Get Carter (1971) fashion, trades Cockney rhyming banter with special guest star Bob Hoskins (wasted in a throwaway role, though it is fun to see the stars of Mona Lisa (1986) together again) and puts his best Alfie (1966) moves on Young's slinky femme fatale. The latter, who signed up for this after an infamous failed bid for the role of Catwoman in Batman Returns (1992), trades largely on her neo-noir status post-Blade Runner (1982) and No Way Out (1987). She is not given enough to do but maintains a chic and sexy presence and sparks genuine chemistry with Caine.
Once the thriller elements kick into high gear so do the arresting visuals from Russell Mulcahy. The Australian born director, who see-sawed from groundbreaking music videos to hit-and-miss horror and fantasy fare (e.g. Razorback (1984), Highlander (1986) and Talos the Mummy (1999) though he sandwiched this between the Denzel Washington cop thriller Ricochet (1991) and Kim Basinger heist flick The Real McCoy (1993)), here delivers one of his tightest, most controlled and involving films. Mulcahy's film noir stylings complement the mystery plot as he delivers a striking moonlit chase over rooftops and through back alleys, an hallucinatory torture-cum-dream sequence that re-imagines a similar scene from Ipcress File with Sam Raimi-esque frantic camera trickery and gore as multiple Harry Anders confront each other, a Brian De Palma-like nod to Psycho (1960) with Caine in the shower (!) and a dynamic finale set amidst a maze of shipping containers. Still a relatively athletic presence, Caine cuts a dash in the action scenes though his sax scored shower sex scene is a little silly. On the other hand the scene where he traumatizes a minor villain by destroying his collection of vintage jazz records is darkly amusing. Adapted for the screen by Irish playwright Ron Hutchinson, who wrote John Frankenheimer's acclaimed The Burning Season (1994) and not-so-acclaimed Island of Dr. Moreau (1996), the plot does not add up to anything substantial. But as star vehicles go, Blue Ice is consistently involving and entertaining.
Australian director with a flashy visual style. A former music video director - most notably for Duran Duran - Mulcahy made an impact in 1984 with his first real film, the Outback creature feature Razorback. 1986's fantasy thriller Highlander was a big cult hit, and its success led to a foray in Hollywood in the 1990s, which included thrillers Ricochet and The Real McCoy, the superhero yarn The Shadow and the sequel Highlander II: The Quickening. Subsequent work has largely been in TV.
It is named after the blocks of frozen piss that accidentally fall out of aeroplanes, however. Weirdest title ever?
6 Aug 2019
You bet it is. One imagines the title made it even more of a tough sell. For years I thought it was about a jewel heist.
On a side-note I recall Empire magazine interviewed Britain's longest serving projectionist. He remembered a press screening of Blue Ice where nobody bothered to turn up except Michael Caine. Caine paid him twenty quid and told him to screen the film anyway. The projectionist said he was the nicest film star he ever met. Conversely he also told a story about working for the nastiest man he ever met... Michael Winner. Shocker.