The only difference between Vertical Limit and A Perfect Storm is that Storm was able to afford A-list actors George Clooney and Mark Wahlberg. Otherwise, the two are cut from the same nylon — one piece used to rig a ship, one used to climb a mountain.
Peter (Chris O’Donnell) has been a mountain climber all his life. His father died of a fall while climbing with him and his sister. His father’s death has always haunted him, which is a convenient way to make our hero more reluctant (and therefore more heroic when finally called upon to save the day).
Years later, Peter is ready to ascend K2 to take pictures for National Geographic. Base camp is like a big party. Everyone is a climber and therefore part of the same extended family. Ed Viesturs lends an air of authenticity to the scene by playing himself.
One group heads up in spite of a dangerous storm and they get trapped. The lost climbers include Vaughn (Bill Paxton), an arrogant billionaire on a tight schedule, a hotshot guide, and Peter’s sister Annie (Robin Tunney). There is a discussion at base camp about whether to send a rescue party, and if so, who should go. Will our reluctant hero be chosen?
Caffeine and Nitroglycerine
Needless to say, the plot is quite conventional. But as with A Perfect Storm, the film really is best when it’s keeping you on the edge of your seat. Surprisingly good special effects and relentless action are this film’s caffeine.
There is a helicopter scene that’s really good and had me squirming in my seat. The action sequences in the trailer are longer and more effective in the context of the movie. As in A Perfect Storm, the special effects were not seamless, but they were paced just right, relevant to the story, and well edited.
A batch of old and unstable nitroglycerine gives the film an extra kick. Even as I write this, the movie sounds ridiculously over-the-top. And in a good way, it is.
Home Theater Showoff
Soundtrack, Colorado’s audio/video specialty store, has a widescreen TV demo that continuously runs Vertical Limit. Perhaps that’s the best way to approach this film. Don’t look at it as art or drama, but as a really cool thing you can do with your television. You can create the virtual environment of a dangerous, freezing mountain. You can get your heart rate and respiration up. You can be pulled to the edge of your couch.
Enjoy, and watch out for those avalanches.