O'Donnell and Tunney Peak too Soon
"Vertical Limit", like so many action movies which take us up into the mountains, isn't a bad movie but one which leaves you wanting more of some things and less of others. What you want more of is the wonderful locations, as whilst "Vertical Limit" may not have been completely shot on K2 those mountain vistas where ever we are taken are stunning there's just not enough of them. And what you want less of is the forced drama because when "Vertical Limit" focuses on climbers battling nature it is good when it creates some drama it then becomes corny. It's a shame as visually "Vertical Limit" is good but the storyline is only average and pretty much cliche filled from start to finish.
3 years after his father died during a climbing incident, Peter Garrett (Chris O'Donnell - Batman & Robin) finds himself facing his demons as he puts together a rescue party to tackle K2 in search of a group of climbers. One of those climbers is his sister Annie Garrett (Robin Tunney - End of Days) who along with millionaire Elliot Vaughn (Bill Paxton - Mighty Joe Young) and lead climber Tom McLaren (Nicholas Lea) have become trapped in a ravine with time running out before they die. But in order to get to them not only does Peter have to take the risk of carrying Nitro-glycerine up the mountain but ask expert climber Montgomery Wick (Scott Glenn) to lead the party, a man who seems to have some form of unfinished business with Vaughn.
Like other relatively recent climbing movies "Vertical Limit" starts in what feels a cliche manner with a disaster up the side of a mountain. It is a scene which whilst visually impressive is also seriously over the top with dialogue full of the macho BS that continues to thread its way through the entire movie. And at the same time it sets up the cliche of young Peter Garrett who having had to cut the rope and watch his dad fall to his death to save him and his sister turns his back on climbing whilst his sister becomes a professional climber. It's all very familiar and is a tool used not only in other climbing movies but various other action/ disaster movies where personal demons have to be faced and conquered.
With this intro out of the way and it is dealt with quite quickly we then get a bit of cinema magic so that Peter and Annie just happen to be at base camp on K2 at the same time for different reasons. What is nice is that whilst you do have the cliche aspect that Peter is slightly tortured by having to send his dad to his death Annie doesn't completely blame him, which in many other moves would have been a major element of divided siblings.
Anyway "Vertical Limit" skips along to the main storyline which sees Annie accompanying millionaire Elliot Vaughn on an attempt to climb K2 when disaster strikes and Annie, Elliot and lead climber Tom find themselves trapped in a snow cover ravine with less than 48 hours to live. And as you can guess Peter leads a rescue mission, returning to climbing for the first time since his father's death to try and rescue her over coming numerous obstacles even before the rescue party start the climb.
Now here is the thing about "Vertical Limit" because there are times where the storyline focuses on these rescuers battling nature, be it avalanches, extreme weather and various other very normal things and it is exciting. But then you get a lot of manufactured drama, from them having the danger of Nitro-Glycerine up the mountains to there being history between millionaire climber Elliot Vaughn and old climber Montgomery Wick. And when it has all this manufactured drama it may deliver the action you expect but it also becomes quite cheesy and unoriginal.
Cheesy is also how you could subscribe some of the characters especially when it comes to brothers Cyril and Malcolm Bench who we first meet naked sunbathing in the snow at the foot of K2. It's all a case of it trying too hard to deliver the various elements which have been used in other action movies over the years and it makes it a very two sided movie. The flip side of this is there is also some intelligence and various names of characters have been derived from other famous climbers, something you probably won't notice or appreciate unless you know about climbing. Plus there is the deviousness of Elliot who straight away we come to realise is a very selfish person, willing to watch others die in order to not only survive but achieve his goals.
As for the acting well everyone delivers what can only be called text book action movie acting. That means whilst the cast which includes Chris O'Donnell, Robin Tunney, Scott Glenn and Bill Paxton is quite good you get moments of grimacing and over acting as they try and make cheesy dialogue seem so much more dramatic. In many ways it is nothing less than you expect and if you enjoy over the top acting combined with over the top action mixed with the occasional moment of comedy you will enjoy it.
What this all boils down to is that "Vertical Limit" isn't a bad movie and if you enjoyed other mountain based action movies such as "Cliffhanger" then there is a chance that you will enjoy this. The sad thing is that it does what so many other mountain action movies do and that is deliver a manufactured drama rather than allowing the power of nature be the danger. And as such whilst there are some terrific mountain scenes far too often the power of the mountain and treacherous landscape plays second fiddle to contrived drama.