Vertical Limit Movie Review
As the thrill-packed trailer might already have cued you, this is an action-filled mountaineering movie, with Chris O'Donnell as Peter Garrett, the unlikely hero trying to save his stranded sister Annie (Robin Tunney) from certain death atop K2, the second-highest place on earth. How'd she get there? Glad you asked... three years after a family tragedy sends Annie on a perpetual climbing quest and Peter grounded on earth, the siblings meet up again at the base of K2, where a Texas billionaire (Bill Paxton) is ascending the peak as a publicity stunt with Annie in tow. Naturally, we learn you can't mess with Mother Nature for profit, and the climbing team ends up stuck in a crevasse only a few hundred feet from the summit -- beaten up, but alive. Barely.
Peter is forced to climb again -- even though he's sworn it off, they suck him back in (it's Cliffhanger by way of The Godfather) for the noble cause of saving sis. After recruiting resident weirdo/chip-on-his-shoulder-character Montgomery Wick (Scott Glenn) and some other local rabble, it's a race against time to save the smarmy billionaire and/or the innocent girl. Wonder who'll get saved, dontcha?
Oddly, Vertical Limit has very little going against it... and very little in its favor. So much of the film feels familiar, drawn from Cliffhanger (though it desperately tries to avoid that comparison, but fails) -- from the setting to the hokey jokes drawn from yesterday's e-mail lists to some rather obvious plotting. We've even seen Paxton take on the elements before (in Twister). That he's the bad guy here doesn't seem to make much difference to the picture's originality. The movie isn't bad by any stretch, but it's just so plain that it will find a rough time attracting a thrill-seeking audience on a crowded holiday weekend.
About all that is worth noting here is the attempt at remaking the boy next door, Chris O'Donnell, as an action star. It worked for Will Smith, right? O'Donnell, and I love the guy to death, is such a cute little fella that you can totally buy him as Robin Tunney's brother, if only Robin Tunney lived in Poughkeepsie and her cat was stuck in a tree and, well, Chris had to climb the daunting 15 feet up there to get it. But O'Donnell at 26,000 feet is a contrivance that I doubt anyone is going to buy, despite throwing the poor guy into way-over-the-top action scenarios (you've seen the jumping-over-the-chasm clip by now), all of which come out of nowhere as a platform for him to strut upon. Sorry Chris, get thee back to Circle of Friends.
Overall, the movie is capably directed, poorly edited, and acted with gusto. Aside from this, it bears mention that Vertical Limit is extremely (and surprisingly) gruesome and far too long, with too many side stories and too few that don't suddenly end with an avalanche (seriously). Whether you like the movie or not, one thing's for sure: After seeing Vertical Limit's spine-tingling opening, you won't be in any hurry to rush up your local cliff-face. Hell, I'm even trying to keep away from the stairs.
Climb every mountain.