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Review: 'Frozen Ground' fails to break the surface

Lackluster stars, confused structure and choppy edit leave a true-case procedural thriller out in the cold.

By Gary Goldstein

8:30 AM EDT, August 22, 2013

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"The Frozen Ground" is a grim, undistinguished procedural thriller based on the true case of serial killer Robert Hansen who, from 1971 to 1983, abducted, raped and murdered at least 17 young women in Alaska. Although writer-director Scott Walker seems committed to not overly exploiting his lurid subject matter, the movie is just too dreary, disjointed and generically creepy to be persuasive.

The story, set in 1983, finds upright Alaska state trooper Jack Halcombe (Nicolas Cage), reportedly an amalgam of several real-life characters, struggling to bring Hansen (John Cusack) to justice amid the apathy of other local investigators. Hansen, meanwhile, is pursuing 18-year-old prostitute Cindy (a game Vanessa Hudgens), his one victim who got away, while Halcombe is concurrently trying to protect and — awkwardly — befriend the erratic, messed up girl, who's vital to catching Hansen.

Because we already know whodunit, the tension largely relies on how the elusive, deceptively meek Hansen will finally be cornered. And, although the film does gain momentum just prior to that showdown, much that comes before is so confusingly structured and choppily edited that viewers may have already checked out.

As for those old "Con Air" co-stars Cage and Cusack, it's hard not to feel they're on paycheck patrol; these are depressingly bloodless turns. Radha Mitchell, as Halcombe's flip-flopping wife, Curtis "50 Cent" Jackson (one of many producers here), playing a bad-wigged pimp, and Jodi Lyn O'Keefe, authentic as a Brooklyn babe, also appear.

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'The Frozen Ground'

MPAA Rating: R for violent content, sexuality/nudity, language and drug use.

Running time: 1 hour, 45 minutes.

Playing: At AMC's Burbank Town Center 8.

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