A great cast climbs a great mountain
Reviewed by Carlos deVillalvilla
(Click on the images to see larger version and credits.)
Those who climb mountains are a different breed. They risk life and limb, push themselves farther than even they themselves think they can go, for a reward of standing someplace few humans can visit.
For most of us, the mountain peaks of the Himalayas are farther away than the moon; someday, we may be able to take a shuttle to the moon. No matter what future, it will always take a special sort of human being to scale those heights.
Peter, Annie and Boyce Garrett are such human beings. Dedicated climbers, they push themselves up the highest peaks, and they do it with joy. However, tragedy intervenes when Peter (Chris O'Donnell) is forced to make an awful decision, one he must revisit later in the movie.
The results of this drive a rift between him and Annie (Robin Tunney). Peter becomes a National Geographic nature photographer, whereas Annie continues climbing, becoming one of the world's best. She signs onto an expedition funded by billionaire adventurer Elliot Vaughn (Bill Paxton) to scale K2, one of the most fearsome, lethal peaks in existence.
Vaughn had been part of an ill-fated expedition that was caught by the weather just short of the summit, resulting in the loss of the entire team except for him. Vaughn wants to find his personal redemption on the peak, which is never a good thing when going up against K2.
Despite the warnings of veteran climber Montgomery Wick (Scott Glenn), the well-outfitted team ascends and Vaughn promptly shows his true colors, making decisions based on ego and ignoring the expertise of his climbers. Caught by a storm and avalanche, three of his team members (including Annie) are buried in a crevasse.
Peter frantically mounts a rescue mission, along with Wick (who has his own reasons for going along) and, among others, Monique (ex-Bond girl Izabella "Goldeneye" Scorupco) who's in it for the money, Kareem (Alexander Siddig of "Deep Space Nine"), who's in it to save his cousin, and brothers Cyril and Malcolm Beach (Steve Le Marquand and Ben Mendelsohn) who are in it as comedy relief.
They are in a race against time, as the survivors will suffer from fatal pulmonary edema (due to the altitude) if not pulled off the mountain in time. Did I forget to mention they are carting unstable nitro bombs to help dig the survivors out? Spectacular stunts and explosions to follow.
The stunts are spectacular, with a helicopter sequence having both Da Queen and I frozen to our seats. Director Martin Campbell ("Goldeneye") keeps the pacing murderous, as the climbers go from peril to peril. Trying to keep the story as realistic as possible, the filmmakers used a lot of expertise from real climbers to give audiences a sense of being up there (some of the scenes were filmed at the K2 base camp).
The problem here is believability. There are a number of rather sizable holes I couldn't really reconcile. The biggest one: After a perilous climb to reach the dying survivors, how are they supposed to cart down the crevasse-dwellers who are too sick to even move a leg out of the way of a rock outcropping? Don't ask me It's just Hollywood, right? Also, there are too many close calls. It's almost rote that people wind up dangling in mortal danger of a rather long plummet only to be saved as they slip off the mountain, either by their sheer willpower, or by the intervention of another climber thought to be too far away to be of help. It gets old after a while, guys.
Nonetheless, this is exquisite eye candy, beautifully filmed. If there was an Oscar for best stunt performances (and by gaw, there should be), "Vertical Limit" would be a major contendah. As it is, it is disposable entertainment.
VIDEO OR THEATER?
See cast, credit and other details about "Vertical Limit" at Internet Movie Data Base.