I initially saw Vertical Limit in the theaters during the winter of 2000. I can’t decide if the movie played better on the big screen, or that it has simply aged very poorly. This is a big-budget adventure picture set in the climbing world, specifically centering on a disastrous trek for a group led by a feuding brother and sister. Arriving after the vastly superior Cliffhanger, Vertical Limit never comes off as anything more than melodrama with some alternately beautiful location photography and blatant use of sets, backgrounds, and CGI techniques.
After a disastrous climbing expedition that results in his father’s death, Peter Garrett (Chris O’Donnell) shoulders all responsibility for the accident. He’s turned his back on climbing to purse nature photography. Meanwhile, Peter’s sister, Annie (Robin Tunney), has elevated herself to be considered one of the world’s best climbers. After Annie is hired by slimy billionaire Elliot Vaughn (Bill Paxton) to lead a trek of novices up the North face, harsh weather conditions traps the crew on the mountain. Faced with losing his sister or conquering his fears, Peter gathers a rescue team, including sherpa Montgomery Wick (Scott Glenn), to save them before the elements kill them all.
Campbell’s direction is efficient if not non-existent in its craftsman like invisibility. Chris O’ Donnell most fondly remembered as a co-star in the Batman films, once again proves he is better in an ensemble than leading the show. There is a moment of tension here and there but, the obvious sound stage setting for the cavern sequence sucks all suspense from the film for a long stretch.
Director: Martin Campbell
Stars: Chris O’Donnell, Bill Paxton, Robin Tunney