There’s a lot in Vertical Limit that will make you gasp, and only some of it is the nutty plot – most of which seems aimed at making the fantastic do-or-die snow stunts possible. And don’t get me wrong – the stunts are breath-holdingly, nail-bitingly extraordinary.
This movie is much like a circus – you have death-defying stunts punctuated by the antics and melodramatic shenanigans of a bunch of clowns. And there are mountain climbing clowns aplenty in this movie, each one equipped with a parka marked with a bulls-eye like so much avalanche meat. And who says Darwinian Natural Selection occurs only over eons?! Odds of survival for these abominable snowmen are roughly analogous to a snowball’s chance in Hell.
What’s with this climbing team, anyway? Only in Hollywood would such grubby guys be teamed with such hot snow-bunny model babes possessing painfully plucked brows and loads of climbing experience – if you count climbing the MAC counter at Nordstrom. Ready to scale K2? Eyebrow tweezers, check. Lipstick, check. Prada backpack, check. This ain’t Mount Saks Fifth Avenue, girls.
Chris O’Donnell and Robin Tunney put the “imp” in “implausibility.” Case and point: Robin’s a mountain climber and she’s on the cover of Sports Illustrated. A mountain climber? On the cover? Not unless K2 hosts a 5K, pal. Not unless the NBA sprouts a Mt. Everest expansion team, folks.
The most egregious and absurd twist, however, is the notion that the climbers must rescue their kin by blowing a hole in the snow with nitroglycerine they trek up the mountain on their backs! Sure, lets dangle off a mountain with a bomb on our backs. What’s next, the scene where a Yeti is dispatched for coffee and bagels?
Trouble ensues when the climbers realize that nitroglycerine explodes when it comes into contact with too much sunlight, much like this script. All the grubby boys and snow bunny girls head for shade to prevent what is inevitable or at least highly desirable from the audience’s standpoint.
Early in the movie, Scott Glenn, with his scruffy long hair and unkempt beard answers the nagging question: What would it look like if the unabomber joined the Doobie Brothers reunion tour? Later, after carving off his beard, craggily-faced Scott dons a headband and convinces more than a few wayward climbers he’s a cross between Christina Aguilera and Granny from the Beverly Hillbillies. “What a Jed wants, what a Jed gets….”
Scott’s got high attitude at any altitude. He’s the eccentric old-salt climbing pro with a ghost in his past and a face with more jags than Mount Everest. “I’ll bring you the head, the tail, the whole damn thing,” says Scott, until someone nudges him into the realization that this is not Jaws and he’s not Robert Shaw.
Bill Paxton is a wealthy Richard Branson-type guy who wants to reach the summit of K2 in time for the inaugural flight of his new airline so he can wave at it when it passes overhead. How’s that for character motivation! Bill, of course, is the Dame Judi Dench of B action movies – never has an actor so compellingly made the case for dental floss. One day Paxton will deliver dialogue like he means it, but that day is not today.
“Vertical Limit” means “as high as you can go.” And whoever wrote this movie definitely is.
Photos Copyright ©2000 Columbia Pictures