Review: “Vertical Limit”

A tragic but spectacularly filmed opening ending with a death at great heights, and a hero who hasn’t climbed since that day forced to do so again to rescue someone close to them. That’s actually an apt description of the first act of the 1991 Sly Stallone movie “Cliffhanger” and also matches exactly the first half of this movie too.

After reinventing Bond with a whole lot of style for “Goldeneye”, and then giving us an action/adventure with depth in “The Mask of Zorro”, Director Martin Campbell opted for a more formulaic Cliffhanger-clone for his third film. A great setting, good pacing, and his expertise at filming great action help buoy up a shambles of a script which drags out some of the most cliched standby subplots and character development this side of a Steven Seagal movie to fill in the gaps in between.

As a whole it feels like just another Summer action movie, nevertheless there are some moments and aspects which lift it above that. The opening sequence in Utah makes one immediately think M:I-2, but the sequence here truly is the movie’s best scene and is actually very gripping. There’s some surprisingly funny jokes made about the conflicts over Kashmir – there’s a Pakistani military outpost near Base Camp complete with a wise-cracking General sprouting lines like “It’s 3pm, time to wake the Indians up” before firing the base’s large cannons.

The actors come from a variety of formats and countries playing an even bigger variety of characters in this – kudos going out the most to Izabella Scorpurco as a French-Canadian female climber, Temeura Morrison as a Pakistani helicopter pilot, and Robert Taylor as the Aussie ‘man in charge’ of Base Camp. Ben Mendehlson and Steve Le Marquand portray a couple of loud mouth Aussie climbers playing up the worst ‘yobbo’ qualities of some of our more obnoxious tourists and do the job well, hell even Chris O’Donnell is pretty good.

On the downside this gives us some rather ordinary performances from the likes of Bill Paxton, Robin Tunney, Scott Glenn and Nicholas Lea who all seem to be playing flatter versions of characters they’ve played in previous movies, whilst DS9 regular Alexander Siddig does well with a role which can’t help but have the feel of being a more vital character of the movie which was cut back a lot during editing.

The action is pretty spectacular with some of the climbing sequences proving breath-taking – trouble is the darn great trailer ruins a lot of the better scenes whereas others simply seem repetitive and blend in with each other so you’ll probably forget a lot of the sequences when you leave the theatre (unlike “Cliffhanger” which had a variety of action).

The FX work for the most part, but there’s quite a few times where one can’t help but think blue screen as everything within a shot – from the person in the foreground to the icy ground half a mile below serving as the background is sharp and clear (if it had been filmed over a real drop there’d be some natural blurring – it may sound like nitpicking, but its a fault you’ll latch onto immedately when you see it).

On a whole this is an average-good action blockbuster, not as exciting as the trailer may have you believe but still quite watchable. The visuals and actors push it high, but the very generic script pulls it back down throughout about half the movie. Not likely to be considered as highly as Campbell’s previous work.