Vertical Limit

on December 08, 2000 by Christine James
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   One of the best-received films at ShowEast 2000, "Vertical Limit" looks to scale some boxoffice peaks as a sub-zero stunt showcase, though the story gets snowed under in the process. After having to make a fatal decision during a family mountain-climbing excursion gone awry, Peter Garrett ("The Bachelor's" Chris O'Donnell) faces more tragedy upon learning that his overly ambitious younger sister Annie ("End of Days'" Robin Tunney) has gotten herself stranded with an ineffectual guide (Nicholas Lea of TV's "The X-Files") and a megalomaniacal millionaire ("U-571's" Bill Paxton) at 26,000 feet in the Himalayas on K2, the world's second-highest and most challenging mountain. Trapped in a subterranean ice cave at an unendurable altitude, Annie and her cohorts don't stand a chance unless a crew is willing to go on what is considered a suicide mission to rescue them before their short time runs out. Motivated by equal parts fraternal devotion and deep-seated guilt, Peter is the first to volunteer; a $500,000 reward put up by the millionaire's father lures the rest of the formulaically motley crew.

   It's always problematic when more lives are risked than are trying to be saved--especially when few of the lives on either side are particularly sympathetic or even likable. And half a million bucks, particularly in the new Regis economy, hardly seems like a good enough motivator to rationalize sticking out one's neck when in all likelihood said neck will end up broken, along with every bone, at the bottom of an icy crevasse. Heck, in his last film, O'Donnell was vying for $100 million and all he had to do was marry Renee Zellweger!

   Still, if the gang had decided it was indeed too dangerous a mission with too small a payoff and opted instead to sit around base camp toasting marshmallows and sipping cocoa, "Vertical Limit" would fail miserably to live up to either of its action or thriller genre adjectives. So up and away they go, with spectacularly perilous results. Whether they're hurtling from a helicopter or dangling precariously from precipices, the rescuers themselves are in dire need of saving as often as not. It doesn't help that they're all loaded down with containers of extremely unstable liquid explosives with which they plan to blast through any blockages but which they seem more inclined to spill copiously.

   The physical feats are inspiring, crowd-pleasing testaments to the stupendous extremes of human capabilities, but to the purportedly experienced, cocksure climber who carelessly tosses his knapsack down on a seriously steep incline and then is shocked and horrified as it--and subsequently he--careens down the mountainside: You deserve what you get. Starring Chris O'Donnell, Robin Tunney, Bill Paxton, Izabella Scorupco and Scott Glenn. Directed by Martin Campbell. Written by Robert King and Terry Hayes. Produced by Lloyd Phillips, Robert King and Martin Campbell. A Columbia release. Action/Thriller. Rated PG-13 for intense life/death situations and brief strong language. Running time: 124 min

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