Vertical Limit cast: Chris O’Donnell, Bill Paxton, Robin Tunney, Scott Glenn, and Izabella Scorupco director: Martin Campbell 119 minutes (12) 2000 widescreen ratio 1.85:1 Columbia Tristar DVD Region 2 retail RATING: 7/10 reviewed by Steven Hampton

Elliot Vaughn (Bill Paxton) is a rich American who favours the limelight, enjoys showing off and uses his celebrity status to manipulate others into doing exactly what he wants. His current ambitious self-publicity stunt is to scale the awesome Himalayan peak of K2 in the fastest time ever. To this end, he challenges some of the world’s best mountaineers to help him reach the summit, and set a new world record. Assembled on the Pakistan border for the climb, Vaughan’s team includes TV journalist Annie Garrett (Robin Tunney, from End Of Days), whose estranged brother Peter (Chris O’Donnell) has just arrived at the sprawling base camp. After the climbers have begun their ascent, a storm approaches rapidly and, following an accident on the mountainside, the reckless Vaughan and his team are trapped in an ice cave. Any rescue attempt would only endanger more lives, yet promises of a hefty payment by Vaughan’s business partner attracts the expected motley of penniless daredevils, Peter joins the mission out of concern for his sister, and the reclusive veteran Montgomery Wick (Scott Glenn) agrees to lead the rescue party.
The crux of this top-of-the-world adventure is an overbearing sense of danger. As the rescuers haul backpacks stocked with unstable nitro up K2 to blast away hard ice, Vertical Limit harks back to the classic thriller The Wages Of Fear (1952).

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The discovery of a frozen murder victim recalls cult hit The Crimson Rivers (aka: Les Rivières Pourpres, 2000), while the presence of gorgeous ex-007 girl Izabella Scorupco (from Martin Campbell’s GoldenEye, 1995) as feisty French-Canadian climber Monique, means there’s no escaping comparisons with Clint Eastwood’s sub-Bondian The Eiger Sanction (1977). Still, despite such unoriginality, we must at least be grateful that Campbell’s addition to the frequently spectacular ropes ‘n’ pitons subgenre foregoes the numbskull machismo of Renny Harlin’s Cliffhanger (1993). Instead, there are droll one-liners: on the madness of climbing mountains in severe weather – “One hundred thousand sperm and you were the fastest?” and the Pakistani army officer at an icebound artillery post, offering his visitors light refreshment – “It’s the best tea. It’s Indian tea, of course. We may be at war with India, but there’s no reason to overreact.” Watch out for Nicholas Lea (rogue FBI agent from The X-Files TV show) and Alexander Siddig (Starfleet’s GM doctor in Star Trek: Deep Space Nine) among the supporting players.
Vertical Limit isn’t a bad film at all, it’s simply uninspired, formulaic and fairly predictable. We instinctively know from the very start which of the briskly drawn, stereotypical characters will not make it back safely. The victims all die tragically, fatefully, or at least meaningfully, of course – though a honourable death remains optional, with much depending on motivation. (Revenge is still a bad thing, while selfless commitment to the rescue effort guarantees survival.) Even so, the order, timing and particulars of casualties in this model Hollywood adventure story are harder to guess and, in this era where the major studios prefer easily marketable blockbuster product, we should be satisfied if not pleased with that much.
DVD extras: making-of item, Surviving The Limit; seven featurettes in Search And Rescue Tales; Quest For K2 documentary; a commentary by the director and executive producer Marcia Nasatir; filmographies; and the theatrical trailer.