An old Hollywood saying warns that films set in cold climes face a chilly box-office reception. This may explain why this thriller about a small group of plane crash survivors trying to beat the frozen North & menacing wolf packs did half the biz of other recent action fare with Liam Neeson. A better explanation is that the film never delivers on its promise. Writer/director Joe Carnahan tries to move beyond mindless action fare like THE A-TEAM/’10 and SMOKIN’ ACES/’06, but drops the ball. You can split the difference between an existential thriller and a supernatural one, but not deciding how stylized or realistic to make your wolf pack breaks faith with an audience. Even good visual ideas, like the pairs of wolf eyes that emerge out of the dark, don’t build to the next . . . well, the next anything. Same goes for much of the action scenes; it could be stunt work from another genre. Better characterizations might have helped us buy in, but not even Neeson gets more than a single character flaw (or trait) to work with. And, with just four or five guys around after the first three reels, the texture grows mighty thin. And then the ending, trying for uncompromising, feels like a cop out.
WATCH THIS, NOT THAT: John Ford’s THE LOST PATROL/’34 is an early version of this set up. But hot, hot, hot instead of cold, cold, cold, and with a sniper in for the wolves. A closer fit is a forgotten John Wayne vehicle, ISLAND IN THE SKY.’53. That one’s got frozen tundra with its plane crash. And what about that tru-life Andes plane crash, ALIVE/’74? Cannibalism, yuck! Well, it’s back to the desert and Robert Aldrich’s THE FLIGHT OF THE PHOENIX/’65 with its devilishly clever plot twist to this thrice told survivors tale.