Ossus Library Index Action Movie Index

VERTICAL LIMIT

Directed by Martin Campbell (2000, Columbia Pictures)
Starring Chris O'Donnel, Bill Paxton, Robin Tunney, and Scott Glenn

A team goes to the rescue of some trapped climbers on the second highest mountain in the world.

 

 

1 star+

January 16th, 2001 in the Theatre

 
    Completely contrived, with lackluster effects, I was hoping for better. Not a total failure, by any means, but definitely not quite a pass, either. There were so many things that I didn't like about this movie that they far outweighed what I did like.

I had high hopes that sank very quickly at the beginning. I liked the song guessing game that Peter and his sister Annie played while climbing up a cliff in the Grand Canyon with their father. (I also liked Annie's cleavage, from the director's choice of shots, but that means I'm already looking for some distraction from the movie -not a good sign.) And the shot of the accident was spectacular as everybody fell from the wall. Their clips in the wall about to give way, their father tells Peter to cut the rope, so that Annie and Peter may live, instead of their father's extra weight carrying them down to death. 

Unfortunately, the panic scenes were poorly acted. And the shot of their father hitting the ground in silence was in very poor taste. 

From there, we cut to the mountain K2, where guns fire every day at 3pm from Pakistan to India. Peter and Annie have not spoken for three years, and he finds her about to accompany an expedition up the mountain. She's a reporter, and the climb is a marketing ploy by some millionaire named Vaughn. Annie has not forgiven Peter for cutting the line, and even though Peter explains it, it's clear that he feels extremely guilty, too. 

Despite inclement weather once the group gets underway, Vaughn forces the group to press on. As the weather gets worse, the group expedition leader tries to get them to turn back, but Vaughn refuses. Finally, Annie falls into a giant ice pit, just as an avalanche comes roaring down. Vaughn and Tom make it into the ice cave, but the rest of their expedition is killed. Ice and snow prevent the three hikers from escaping. They now have only a couple of days to live before they run out of resources. 

I guess the rest of the movie couldn't have happened if the group leader had not been stupid enough to let Vaughn continue, even though he did try to turn the man back. 

Peter, back at base camp, gets through to Annie using Morse code. He organizes a search party to go and rescue the group. Of course time is limited, so they need someone who knows the mountain well enough to get up there quickly. Wick is that man. He refuses, but then agrees once he is told Vaughn is up there. For it turns out (much later) that Wick's wife led Vaughn up the mountain on his last climb. Vaughn returned from the failed attempt, but Wick's wife did not. Wick knows that Vaughn used up the last of the supplies, leaving the rest of the team to die.

And he's about to do the same thing now. Tom is immobilized, because he broke or punctured something when he fell into the cave. I really thought Vaughn's eyes were going to turn red and he was going to growl when Annie started giving him the medication. When Vaughn eventually kills the crippled man, Annie starts attacking him, but seems to completely forget about that in the next scene. And he seems to hold no grudge at her for attacking him. Did I miss a scene? And why did Vaughn have to leave the syringe lying around? There was plenty of vertical drop for him to deposit the evidence of the murder.

On the outside, Peter decided to use the Pakistani military's supply of nitroglycerin to blow the cave open. Wick has three teams ascend, one with each canister. Of course, only one canister survives the trip. One team loses theirs in a stupid accident by one really dim-witted guy (one of two comic relief brothers). They fall off a conveniently placed cliff after a nice sled ride, barely hang on, and then drop the nitro. It explodes, but not until one of them makes it up the cliff again, and slings a rope down for the other. But he then stands and watches as an avalanche comes roaring towards him. All the other expert climbers would have dropped themselves down on the rope, which somehow survives the avalanche. And why is it that those silly ice-axes can never catch onto anything, until the very last moment when somebody is about to fall over a cliff?

Before any of this, though, we get to watch a totally unsuspenseful helicopter scene. If the two main characters had not been the ones in trouble, I might have wondered if one of them was going to die. Or if their mission would be in jeopardy because their resource man at base camp would not get a helicopter ride down. But if the copter could hover erratically just at the ledge, he could have easily used that erratic flight to bring them over the edge. What was the point? So that we could see the one woman climber screech and cringe as her jacket is torn by the helicopter blades?

On the Pakistani border, somebody forgot to close the box of nitro. And it's leaking. Of course, it was leaking when they took some, so they could have the demonstration of the exploding shoe. And nobody decided to clean it up. So they left the box open, and the door to the storehouse, apparently. Because at 3pm, when the guns go off again, the remaining nitro explodes. A spark, perhaps? But when the base camp hears about this, they radio up to the teams that the nitro reacts to sunlight... I don't know how this came about. Were they not in full sunlight for the whole day up to this point? And the nitro cylinder of one team chooses that moment to start leaking. They get it to shade, but it's too late. As they are laughing about their good timing in getting the cylinder covered... BOOM! 

But the explosion and subsequent avalanche uncover Wick's wife -how lucky for them. Wick vows to kill Vaughn, as Vaughn is ready to take the medication away from Annie now. 

Peter doesn't want Wick to do any killing, so he and the remaining teammate (the woman he's grown fond of) go the rest of the way the next morning without him. Funny how the weather suddenly turned bad. Vaughn and Annie used a combination of flare and Tom's still-warm blood to create a beacon through the tiny hole they can see above them. Funny how that hole appeared during every explosion and cave-in... So when Peter arrives, he places the nitro and after a very suspenseful (a.k.a. totally fake) moment, it clears all the snow and ice from above the cave. We also get to wonder if Annie survived the explosion for a second or two. Talk about suspense (thick sarcasm here)...

Of course, as Annie's injured body is being brought up, the anchor begins to give way, and just as Peter and his companion are about to fall into the hole as well, Wick arrives, and steps on the anchor to put it back in place. I didn't see that coming...

Wick decides not to kill Vaughn, and they all start to climb out. But the anchors start to slip again, and Wick is forced to cut the rope to lessen the weight. He falls to his death, and takes Vaughn with him. A noble sacrifice, which vindicates what Peter did at the beginning, and I'm sure it alleviates most of his guilt.

The movie makes no effort to let us know how Peter and the other woman got down the mountain, considering how difficult it was to get up there, getting down should have been almost as hard -if not harder. And just the two of them bringing the disabled Annie down seems unlikely. Vaughn had already told Tom that nobody would be able to carry him down, even with a team of six!

I see at least one of the Deep Space Nine actors is getting work. Alexander Siddig (Dr. Bashir) plays a Pakistani climber, and does very good, at that, even though his character is ridiculed throughout. 

There was some nice scenery, and some pretty good action in spots. I can't even remember most of what I did enjoy in this movie. If you want to see a good climbing movie, rent K2 (if you can still find it, from 1993 or 94), and if you want to see a good avalanche, see the IMAX Everest.
 
   

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