- The Washington Times - Friday, December 8, 2000

1/2 out of four stars

TITLE: "Vertical Limit"

RATING: PG-13 (Arguably a lenient rating, given the conspicuous profanity, vulgarity and graphic violence, which includes a considerable amount of gruesome illustrative detail)

CREDITS: Directed by Martin Campbell

RUNNING TIME: 126 minutes

''Vertical Limit" recognizes no limits on pseudo-cliffhanging perils, evasions and absurdities while extolling the fraternal devotion of Chris O'Donnell, who refuses to say die when kid sister Robin Tunney plunges into a crevasse while struggling to reach the summit of K2.

This mischance leaves her and two companions, played by Bill Paxton and Nicholas Lea, simultaneously battered and entombed at approximately 26,000 feet.

They have about 22 hours to live before edema sets in. If I heard the numbers correctly, Mr. O'Donnell's rescue party of six, split into three sets climbing from different directions, will require at least 27 hours to reach their destination. Naturally, a brother's love proves stronger than mere punishing reality.

If you want to believe the buzz, "Vertical Limit" already is a marketing triumph, the holiday release that boasts more name recognition than any title since "The Grinch," an equally disreputable snow job.

This want-to-see head start presumably is the result of a trailer that showcases the single most absurd "highlight," Mr. O'Donnell supposedly hurling himself from one precipice to another.

This preposterous leap of digital faith should endure as the year's phoniest stunt, surpassing even the bogus acrobatics ascribed to Tom Cruise in "Mission: Impossible, Part II" or the babes in "Charlie's Angels."

One even could argue that director Martin Campbell shows more slapstick than melodramatic skill. A traumatic prologue in which nominally younger versions of Mr. O'Connell's Peter Garrett and Miss Tunney's Annie lose their dad on a climb in Utah's Monument Valley ends when the victim's body lands with a cartoon thump on the valley floor. Thanks a lot.

Vengeance of a kind will be available promptly to moviegoers who savor Mr. Campbell's way of taking pratfalls while pretending to authenticate high-altitude catastrophes or prodigious feats of mountain-climbing strength and dexterity.

There's a recurrent chorus of thumps throughout "Vertical Limit." Mr. Campbell even comes up with a "Wages of Fear" wild card: The rescuers tote canisters of nitroglycerin up the mountain in order to set off harebrained explosions for our bemusement.

Another amusing comic wrinkle: No one realizes that direct sunlight could heat up nitro to a boiling point.

The ostensible urgency of the mission is never reflected in the screenplay, which keeps stopping for pointless spats or get-acquainted exchanges. The obvious drawback is that no one makes a decisively sympathetic first impression, including the virtuous siblings.

Annie's fictional suffering is undermined persistently by the funny ring in Robin Tunney's cough, which cries out for some prompt ridicule on "Saturday Night Live." Will she be going straight from this vehicle to a laughable "Camille"?

Hollywood's notion of feminine empowerment is entrusted to both Miss Tunney and Swedish export Izabella Scorupco (who played a Bond babe for Mr. Campbell in "GoldenEye") as the rugged gal among the rescuers. The latter's willingness to throw a punch at a lewd Aussie lout pretty much guarantees her survival, despite obstacles that portend certain death.

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