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Wednesday, December 20, 2000

Vertical Limit

Posted By on Wed, Dec 20, 2000 at 12:00 AM

Loss and grief (with winning sometimes being the choice of how and what to lose), blood, ice and tears lie beneath the avalanches and explosions of Vertical Limit.

Peter Garrett (Chris O’Donnell, The Bachelor) and his younger sister, Annie (Robin Tunney, End of Days), are mountaineers by blood. A disaster during a family climbing expedition forces Peter to make an unthinkable choice that saves his sister’s life, a choice she can’t accept and won’t forgive. Their paths cross three years later in the Himalayas at the base of the K2 peak. Annie is a member of billionaire adventurer Elliot Vaughn’s (Bill Paxton, U-571) climbing team. The reception she gives her brother is not much warmer than the arctic air.

When Vaughn’s snow-blind ambition has deadly consequences, Peter scrapes together a motley crew of climbers for a nearly impossible rescue mission. Above the vertical limit of 24,000 ft., Annie and the other survivors of her team have less than 36 hours to live. Peter recruits weathered mountaineer Montgomery Wick (Scott Glenn, Firestorm), who holds the speed record for ascending K2, and sets out to save his sister’s life for a second time, to grab at a second chance.

The world of Vertical Limit is Hollywood big with hyperreal climbing stunts, explosions and computer graphic-enhanced avalanches: It’s a thrill ride. But as Hollywood as it looks, at its heart a family drama motivates this tale of man (and woman) against nature.

Vertical Limit has its flaws. After one of the most stunning opening sequences of the year, its script falters, suffering a lag while establishing characters (some, crude stereotypes) and the dangers of K2.

When Peter arrives at the foot of the mountain, he takes a moment to regard a tall and growing memorial — names carved, photographs affixed — to climbers the peak has claimed. When he returns just days and hours later, there are more names and more photographs. At the Vertical Limit, death seems to wait patiently in the snow and the rarefied air — but life, ironically, starved of oxygen, seems to burn more brightly.

E-mail James Keith La Croix at letters@metrotimes.com.

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