- Movie Rating -

Vertical Limit (2000)

| December 8, 2000

You know what I get tired of? Those movies that gather a lot of egotistical people together who are experts at a particular profession or activity and have them talk to one another as if they have been performing this profession/activity from the time they could crawl. They talk in a lot of jargon, they usually insult one another in fun, there is usually one argument that almost comes to blows and most of the time there is a legendary crazy old coot famous for being, well — a legendary crazy old coot. These movies usually supply a large company of stock characters including the seasoned expert, the good looking hero (who has usually lost a legendary relative, most often dear old Dad), the beer-guzzling party animal, the beautiful sidekick/love interest, somebody’s brother (99% of the time he doesn’t make it) and of course the usual no-name actor just thrown in so that he can die in a display of spectacular stunt work.

I have seen this formula applied to firefighters (‘Backdraft’), air traffic controllers (‘Pushing Tin’), navy pilots (‘Top Gun’), stock car racers (‘Days of Thunder’), surfers (‘Point Break’), yacht racing champs (‘Wind’), storm chasers (‘Twister’), Alpine skiers (‘Aspen Extreme’) etc., etc., etc. They aren’t exactly people that you would want to be around as an amateur because as these movies usually go your death could be foretold even before you met them (If they are such experts then why do three-fourths of their crew die?).

‘Vertical Limit’ supplies all of the stock characters and hurls them into a chaotic series of predictable tragedies each one seemingly designed to wipe out the supporting characters in the order of the actor’s place on the Hollywood celebrity food chain. In other words, if most of the people in the audience know who the actor is then the longer that character’s death will be delayed in the film’s running time. If they have top billing, they make it out alive.

The movie begins when Peter (Chris O’Donnell), his sister Annie (Robin Tunney) and their father (Stuart Wilson) are rock climbing when an accident leaves them hanging from a rock with a clamp that is about to come loose and send all plunging to their deaths. Dad (at the bottom end of the rope) informs his son to cut him loose to lighten the load, which he does after some heated shouting.

Three years later in the Himalayas a group of mountain climbers have gathered to see off a team who are about to go on an expedition despite warnings that a harsh storm could shift it’s direction at a moment’s notice. The two kids meet up just as Annie is about to head out with a famous gusto millionaire (Bill Paxton) and his cautious guide (Nicholas Lea). After the usual banter about turning back the three press on and barely miss getting swallowed up by an avalanche only to end up trapped in an ice cave. This provides the time-honored tradition of having people trapped together so that they can argue about the need to conserve supplies despite the fact that one of them is standing at death’s door (for this person’s identity, see which of these three actors you haven’t heard of).

Peter gathers a rescue team made up mostly of the aforementioned no-name actors so that we can watch them die according to the aforementioned Celebrity Death Meter. The expedition is lead by The Crazy Old Coot (Scott Glen) a long-haired mountain man with no toes whose wife’s death leads to one of the most effectively bone chilling sights that I have seen in a movie in a long while. He leads Peter and crew up the mountain because he knows the mountain better than anyone. To make matters worse, the clock starts ticking for Annie as she contracts pulmonary edema.

No time for plot development because the movie is too busy hurtling its characters from one crisis to another. The movie also adds a stupid plot device involving O’Donnell deciding to carry nitroglycerin so that he can blast open the area where his sister is trapped. The movie isn’t kind enough to explain why they think that such an unstable, unpredictable chemical can be used to open the ice cave without causing an avalanche.

The movie has the usual stuntwork with characters hanging by pick axes over precarious drops, having them swallowed up by avalanches and having them slide back down the mountain and trying to get hold with their axes. It does provide one fascinating piece of stunt work as the climbers have to climb out onto the leg of the helicopter, slide to the end and drop onto a ledge. I’m starting to count on one hand the number of movies that don’t provide the chopper pilot the opportunity to shout: ‘I can’t hold it!’ ‘Vertical Limit’ reminded me of ‘The Perfect Storm’ a much better movie about people who put themselves in harm’s way to save their own skins. The movie wasn’t perfect but as least I felt like the sailors on that boat seemed to belong there and had individual personalities that carried them even when they made the wrong decision. They were played by actors that I knew but the way they played their characters made me believe that they actually lived life on the sea. The actors in ‘Vertical Limit’ just look like actors in front of a blue screen supplied for the movie’s overblown stunt show. These characters may come on screen talking a lot of jargon about mountain climbing but it seems to me that most of their success comes from dumb luck.

About the Author:

Jerry Roberts is a film critic and operator of two websites, Armchair Cinema and Armchair Oscars.
(2000) View IMDB Filed in: Uncategorized