Vertical Limit

Usually, studious reserve the end of the year for heavier Oscar fare. Don't believe the timing; Vertical Limit is the near epitomy of the Hollywood action movie. There are lots of eye-popping stunts and an inane story replete with ridiculous dialogue and so-so acting. This movie belongs in the summer, where tons of kids can flock to it and watch it repeatedly. But there are astonishing stunts, right? Vertical Limit is a nice no-brainer alternative to some things out there, but that still does not make it a great movie. The plot revolves around a rescue attempt at the top of K2 (for those who don't know, K2 is the of the world's tallest mountains, not as high as Everest but much more dangerous).

Peter Garrett (Chris O'Donnell, The Bachelor, Cookie's Fortune) needs to rescue his sister Annie (Robin Tunney, End of Days, Supernova). She was scaling the peak with entrepreneur Elliot Vaughn (Bill Paxton, U-571, Mighty Joe Young) and Tom McLaren (Nicholas Lea, Once a Thief, Lunch with Charles). Vaughn wants to reach the peak at a certain time to promote his company, but hey, of course the conditions are too dangerous. An avalanche traps them in a cavern, where all they have is a radio. Writer Robert King (Cutthroat Island, Red Corner) tries to infuse drama into the story with a prologue to establish the fact that Peter and Annie, once close siblings, are not speaking because of the death of their father. Garrett must overcome this tension and assemble a team to rescue Annie before it is too late!

The worst points of the film come about around this time. There is an old man, Montgomery Wick (Scott Glenn, The Virgin Suicides, The Last Marshal), a scraggly, shamanistic loner. He is unwilling to help and has his own reasons for being on the mountain. Guess who's going to join the rescue? Peter manages to assemble his own motley crew of rescuers who set off with a plan that defies description. The low point of the movie is when director Martin Campbell (The Mask of Zorro, Goldeneye) has a frontal shot of the team walk shoulder to shoulder with gear across the snow. Isn't this what the television news does with their newscasters?

Still, once the story moves along and the rescue attempt begins, things get a little better. The amazing climbing (and falling) scenes in Vertical Limit were not filmed in the Himalayas, but in the Alps of New Zealand and in front of the ubiquitous blue screen. Even some of the more fantastic stunts look a little believable, and almost all of them are breathtaking. The acting suffers, mainly because of the lame dialogue. Tunney and Paxton also have it hard since they basically do nothing the entire movie. Echoes of Cliffhanger, K2, Mission Impossible 2, and Everest loom over Vertical Limit. Especially the IMAX Everest, which started as a documentary on a climb and ended up as part of an actual rescue attempt (the same one chronicled in Into Thin Air). Everest had much more drama, beautiful scenery (the crew had to carry those huge IMAX cameras), heartbreaking moments, and all in about forty-five minutes. Vertical Limit pales in comparison.

Haro Rates It: Not That Good.
2 hours, 6 minutes, Rated PG-13 for intense life/death situations and brief strong language.

Back to Movies