Review by Jack Foley
ADRENALIN junkies seeking a quick fix from Vertical Limit will be more than
a little disappointed by this lame blockbuster which, aside from the odd set
piece, will ultimately leave you feeling very cold. Borrowing very heavily
from movies such as Cliffhanger (and somehow making them seem far superior
by comparison!), Vertical Limit is the type of film which promises much, but
delivers very little. It is devoid of ideas, woefully short on logic and quickly
becomes buried under an avalanche of cliches.
Worse still, it frequently fails to deliver on the action front, forcing viewers to wait a very long time in between its set pieces. The pitch is fairly simple. A top team of mountain climbers become trapped in an ice cavern at 26,000 feet while attempting to scale K2 and have only 36 hours to survive the elements. Enter a second team of climbers who face a race against time to get them.
Included in the first team is Robin Tunney's daredevil climber, her billionaire boyfriend (Bill Paxton) and a reluctant team leader (Nicholas Lea, of X-Files fame) whose decision to press on against his better judgement quickly comes back to haunt him.
The second team is a mixed bunch of adventurers who each have their own reasons for attempting the mission impossible. Principle among them is Chris O'Donnell's Peter Garrett, a nature photographer desperate to prevent his sister (Tunney) from meeting a similar fate to their father - who was killed in a climbing accident at the start of the movie.
Garrett is supposed to be the all-American hero - the nice guy we can root for; unfortunately, he is also incredibly dim and dull. It's his idea to carry cannisters of nitro-glycerine up the mountain so that they can easily blast through the rocks. Yet without fail, most of the cannisters explode when the rescuers least expect it.
Joining him in his quest are Scott Glenn's mystical climber, who is more interested in finding the body of his late wife, killed four years earlier on the mountain; Izabella Scorupco's cash-strapped doctor and potential love interest; two drunken Kiwis (presumably for light relief); and a token Asian (to ensure the whole affair is politically correct). Yet without fail, none of the characters command any interest bar trying to guess who will fall off the mountain, or blow up, next.
The character flaws wouldn't be so bad if the plot or the script were in any way decent; yet once again the film slips on the ice and falls firmly on its face. The opening sequence sets the standard. O'Donnell, Tunney and their father are climbing in America when disaster befalls them. Yet much of the excitement, indeed terror, of their predicament is taken away by the fact that you can tell some scenes were shot on a film set and that much of what's on show was done better in Cliffhanger and last year's Mission Impossible II.
Furthermore, the whole race against time scenario - the stranded team has 22 hours to survive, while the rescue will take 27 - keeps coming undone amid shots of the rescuers camping or praying.
Of the action sequences, there are a few spectacular leaps from crevice to crevice and a well staged avalanche early on, but they do little to compensate for the sheer stupidity going on either side of them. If you've seen the trailer and marvelled at the stunts, you've seen the best that Vertical Limit has to offer. It's a downhill experience otherwise.