Vertical Limit (2000) / Adventure-Thriller
MPAA Rated: PG-13 for intense life/death situations and brief strong language
Running Time: 124 min.
Cast: Chris O'Donnell, Bill Paxton, Robin Tunney, Scott Glenn
Director: Martin Campbell
Screenplay: David Elliott, Clay Ayers
Review published January 14, 2001
Considering the lackluster delivery of the previous two notable mountain climbing films to come out in the last decade, CLIFFHANGER and K2, and the B-grade stars of this outing, VERTICAL LIMIT shouldn't have had trouble living up to expectations. It didn't, but offers nothing more than exactly what you'd expect. Going into it, I had a sense of hope that Martin Campbell, director of two of the better action outings in the late 90s, GOLDENEYE and THE MASK OF ZORRO, might be able to pull off a miracle and make O'Donnell someone you might even root for at some point during the film, instead of the usual hoping that he will fall to a grisly death during every frame of cellulose in which he is depicted. To Campbell's credit, the film has some impressive action sequences, but it's ultimately the flimsy and derivative story by Robert King, screenwriter for such flops as CUTTHROAT ISLAND and RED CORNER, that handcuffs Campbell with material that could never get off the ground in the first place.
King's story deals with young mountain climber Peter Garrett (O'Donnell) and his sister Annie, who suffered a traumatic experience as youths when a climbing mishap results in the death of their father. Unable to bring himself to climb again, Peter later feels compelled to take up the challenge again when his sister becomes trapped close to the top of K2, the world's 2nd tallest and perhaps most dangerous peak. Every moment counts as the bad weather and lack of food and water threatens their lives by the second.
Only someone with a hard-on for mountain climbing might possibly find the weak acting and storyline interesting enough to be thoroughly entertained. VERTICAL LIMIT does start off reasonably well, and for a moment I thought it might not be so bad after all, but a lack of thrills and surprises sets in like hypothermia and a mercilessly horrible ending kills any chance it had to be a memorable film-going experience. It ticks along exactly as you'd expect, delivering the minimal goods, but alas, delivering the bad as well. Fresher writing, a better cast, and more realism to the action could have made a decent film out of this, but this kind of survivalist adventure fare has been done so often that there wasn't any more gold to be mined with this material. As an escapist adventure, it's pretty to look at all of the scenic mountains and vistas. Too bad they felt the need to interject a storyline to the cinematography. Try as they might, the limitations of the talent involved proved VERTICAL LIMIT's chances at success a mountain too high to climb.
©2001 Vince Leo