Vertical Limit (2000) – A Review


A review of the mountain climbing action film Vertical Limit, starring Chris O’Donnell, Bill Paxton, Robin Tunney and Scott Glenn, directed by Martin Campbell


After losing their father in a climbing accident, shell-shocked brother and sister Peter (Chris O’Donnell) and Annie (Robin Tunney) have gone their separate ways. Peter has retired from climbing, but Annie is the climbing guide to millionaire Elliot Vaughn (Bill Paxton) and a group up the treacherous K2 – a mountain that has claimed many lives!

Well, things go wrong with the climb leaving Annie and Vaughn trapped with time running out to survive the harsh conditions. Peter recruits a group to risk their lives to save them. There’s nail-biting climbing sequences, narrow falls, avalanches and nitro explosions as everyone tries to survive K2 and get down alive.

Directed by Martin Campbell, Vertical Limit is meant to be a tense, thrilling adventure flick. It ends up as a bit of a mixed bag. Some of the climbing sequences do deliver with some rousing white knuckle suspense, but along the way is saddled with a pretty ridiculous, predictable story, extreme leaps of logic and some very flat and unremarkable characters.  

Vertical-Limit-2000-Bill-Paxton-Robin-TunneyThere are absolutely no surprises when it comes to where the the story and characters are going to end up. Paxton is the arrogant, confident millionaire, of course when he’s cornered with surviving he turns into a frightened, back-stabbing coward. Scott Glenn is a skilled, soft-spoken mountain climber who has spent years time looking for his dead wife who died climbing K2. Well, he ultimately agrees to go on the rescue mission and guess what surprise he encounters when he goes up climbing this time.

O’Donnell and Tunney’s characters solely are a brother and sister who have resentment towards each other and have to reconnect. Well, that story plays out as simply and blandly as it could have been done. A to B to C. There’s really nothing for them to play other than with the climbing scenes.

Admittedly, the characters aren’t the main draw, you’ll be watching for the mountain climbing action. While there’s moments with some noticeable green screen that haven’t aged very well since the year 2000, there are some standout moments that will make you grip your seat and is what you’re looking for when you sit down to watch a mountain climbing action movie.

However, the story and predicaments facing the climbers get progressively more and more absurd. It gets pretty ridiculous in trying to set up the climbing thrills and dangers that rain down on everyone and come up with some pretty clumsy setups. We know we have to get to some tense suspense on the mountain, and how the story makes those peaks of action happen are sloppy and very forced.

Vertical-Limit-2000-mountain-climbing-action-movie-filmSnow falling down, holding onto pick axes in ice, close-ups of ropes snapping. One of the most bizarre moments is GoldenEye Bond Girl Izabella Scorupco narrowly avoiding the blades from an out of control helicopter near the mountain.

They really start to throw the kitchen sink of dangers at the cast. The piling on with more unbelievable scenarios, starts to lose any kind of reality to hold onto. You can either swallow it and go along for the ride, OR you’ve checked out and just shake your head at it all.

Vertical Limit ends up only as a mildly diverting film. Some of the scenery looks nice and there are certainly climbing surviving highlights. It might be a good timekiller for an afternoon viewing and some of the climbing bits are enjoyable. But it is a very loooong movie. Clocking in at a little over two hours, there is a lot of dead weight and boring scenes you’d like to cut loose. You really have to wade through a lot of dull, clichéd characters, a run-of-the-mill story and the lack of any surprises to get to the fun moments.

It’s one of those movies that once it ends you won’t remember much of anything from it. Credits begin rolling and ‘poof’ it will be gone. 

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