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Vertical Limit

movie reviewmovie review out of 4 Movie Review: Vertical Limit

Starring: Bill Paxton, Scott Glenn
Director: Martin Campbell
Rated: PG-13
RunTime: 130 Minutes
Release Date: December 2000
Genre: Action

*Also starring: Chris O'Donnell, Temuera Morrison, Bill Paxton, Izabella Scorupco, Alexander Siddig, Robin Tunney

Review by Steve Rhodes
2 stars out of 4

For viewers who think movies should be more like plotless IMAX films, director Martin Campbell provides a feast for your eyes in the 35mm motion picture, VERTICAL LIMIT. Your brain will likely feel starved, but your thumbs will get lots of exercise as you twiddle them waiting for the inevitable disaster to strike so that the story can finally get some traction.

The producers should get their money back from writers Robert King (CUTTHROAT ISLAND) and Terry Hayes (PAYBACK) since the script is laughably weak. Characters are killed off before we ever get to know them enough to care about their demise. Their rapid deaths, of course, are done so that we can have as many dramatic incidents as possible. You don't go "wow" during an IMAX film for the dialog. You do so when the IMAX movie makes you experience some vicarious moment of terror. Easily, the most ridiculous part of VERTICAL LIMIT is the proclivity of the characters to die for the greater good. For most people, the idea of suicide as a way to help someone else isn't something they could do easily or ever.

After an opening reminiscent of the opening sequence of MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE II, the movie cuts to 3 years later when Peter and Annie Garrett (Chris O'Donnell and Robin Tunney), brother and sister climbers, are in the Himalayas. Except for their displays of physical strength, neither O'Donnell nor Tunney gives much to their parts. This isn't a movie that stands up to much logical examination. Several of the film's sequences, while impressive, appear quite impossible.

The only real acting of any merit in the movie comes from Scott Glenn, as toeless, recluse Montgomery Wick. Labeled a "lunatic" by some, Wick has spent the last four years climbing K2 alone, while looking for the body of his dead wife. Wick is the only climber in the story who can scale K2's extreme heights without ever being out of breath. Surprisingly, only once does any climber, certainly not the indefatigable Wick, resort to using bottled oxygen.

Bill Paxton, as Elliot Vaughn, plays a megalomaniac, clearly patterned after Richard Branson of the Virgin Atlantic fortune. One assumes, however, that Branson would not be willing to kill people in his search for thrills and for his own greater glory. Although Paxton appears to be having fun, he delivers one of his weakest performances.

After hosting "the highest party in the world," Elliot is off on an assault on K2 with Annie as a member of his team. The party looks like a drinking scene from a generic teen comedy. Gosh, isn't mountain climbing fun? The story even includes a pair of Australian stoner dude brothers, who like to sun themselves in the buff, but who are really K2-capable climbers.

Peter, deciding that Elliot has chosen the wrong time of day to begin the climb, asks Annie, "What does the mountain say?" It's that kind of script.

My personal favorite among the many ridiculous aspects of the movie is its ability to telegraph key twists with absolute precision. Carefully choosing a day in which their bank of computers has determined that it is 82% likely to have good weather, Elliot and company start their climb in glorious sunshine. Without any computers whatsoever, exactly what do you calculate would be the chance that a storm will come out of nowhere? 100%?

With its sweeping music and sometimes stunning cinematography, the film does have its rewards. But if you're looking solely for visual thrills, go for a real IMAX film, not an ersatz substitute.

VERTICAL LIMIT runs a long 2:06. It is rated PG-13 for intense life/death situations and brief strong language and would be fine for kids around 12 and up.

Copyright 2000 Steve Rhodes

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