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IN SHORT: Oy. [Rated PG-13 (for intense life/death situations and brief strong language). minutes]
Sometimes a script can be so incredibly bad, with seen it a zillion times before characters and situations, that only big explosions and stunts or special effects can save any hope of a pleasant experience in the dark. No, we're not talking about Bond Movies, though Vertical Limit director Martin Campbell ran the gauntlet with Goldeneye, another one of many in which the characters have nothing to do but react to effects. Campbell also sat in the hot seat for The Mask Of Zorro, which shows what he can do with a decent script and actors who bring some personality to their roles. Campbell uses all of his experience to try and save Vertical Limit, whose situations will make you cringe and whose suspenseful effects and calamities will have you gripping the arms of your theater seat.
It doesn't take much sense to know that mountain climbing is for people that don't have much sense. <g> The younger climbers know the rush of "beating" the mountain. The older climbers know that the mountain always wins, if you don't know when to stop pressing you luck. Which means the mountain is the true star of Vertical Limit, for only when it wields its mighty hand does this flick get interesting.
Every day at dawn Montgomery Wick (Scott Glenn), the wild man of the mountain called K2, hair and beard a ragged grey, goes up the mountain, searching for the body of his wife, who died four years earlier while leading a Texas millionaire to the top. The Millionaire survived, but the rest of his team got "blown off the mountain" and the mission leader was never found.
As Vertical Limit begins, after a prolog which provides all the character background you're going to get, millionaire Elliot Vaughn (Bill Paxton) has returned to K2, to finish what he had begun once before. "In memory of the dead" the guy intends to be at the summit as the inaugural flight of his new airline, Majestic Air, flies over his head. The climb, on a ridiculously tight schedule, isn't for publicity, mind you, it's a "life goal". Sheesh.
Tom McLaren (Nicholas Lea) leads the team. Annie Garrett (Robin Tunney) is the WNN media correspondent along for the ride. Garrett, on her own, is a Sports Illustrated cover star known for her rapid ascents up the steepest slopes. She has continued to climb while her brother Peter (Chris O'Donnell) has sworn off the lifestyle, since a personal tragedy affected them both a number of years before. So deep is the pain that Peter and Annie haven't spoken since the tragedy.
Once on the mountain, a freak storm bears down on the party at the 26,000 feet mark. Vaughn browbeats mission leader McLaren to keep going for 500 more feet, where there's an outcropping to hide under, rather than turning back. Needless to say, they don't make it. Remember that bit about the "Mighty Hand"? It starts here. Three of the party ... guess ... are stranded and lost to sight. Their options are few: They could wait to die of exposure or they could pray for rescue and, more than likely, keel over from pulmonary edema before help arrives.
While the Pakistani army continues a war against its neighbors on the other side of the mountain a rag tag team of six rescuers, led by Peter and Wick, strap tubes of a super explosive to their backs and heads up the mountain to do in 22 hours what they need 27 to do; that is find the lost team and blast a hole through the mountain to rescue them.
Six asses go up the mountain. Few will return, many because of sheer stupidity. In addition to Peter and Malcolm Wick, brothers Cyril and Malcolm Bench (Steve Le Marquand and Ben Mendelsohn) are either stoners or drunkards or just plain dumb and lazy horny Brits, stretched out nude on their loungers, getting that perfect all over tan while the rich folk helicopter in. For 500K apiece, they'll go up the mountain, spouting accents that are almost impenetrable. Also in the crew is French-Canadian Monique (Izabella Scorupco), the better half of lost team leader Tom, and Kareem (Star Trek DS9's Alexander Siddig), who lost his friend Ali in the initial disaster.
Yes, initial disaster. Vertical Limit drops so much ridiculous and unbelievable crap into its wretched story that only Campbell's great knack for staging high tension suspense and action scenes saves the day. You'll see stuff coming a mile in advance. You'll still be giggling with nervous laughter as the tension builds and builds and builds . . . as the nitro goes off when it isn't supposed to or as the mountain starts falling apart, all by itself. Completely manipulative? You bet. Rockin' fun? Almost ditto.
On average, a first run movie ticket will run you Eight Bucks. Were Cranky able to set his own price to Vertical Limit, he would have paid...
Great film? Hell, no. $5 would be the normal dateflick level, which this more than qualifies for. Our suggestion? Buy the big popcorn. That way you can throw whatever you don't eat at the screen. You'll know when.
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