Running Out Of Oxygen

A contrived storyline make this one quite missable. Great photography, though!

Following in the tradition of big-budget action movies packed with daredevil stunts, "Vertical Limit" begins with three climbers - Peter Garrett (Chris O'Donnell), his sister Annie (Robin Tunney) and their father - hanging from a cliff when an accident leaves them on the verge of certain death. In order to save himself and his sister, Peter cuts the rope holding him to his father, leaving the older man to plummet to his death. Scarred by this misadventure, Peter gives up climbing forever, while his sister goes on to become a world-famous climber.

Years later, Peter is in the Himalayas, shooting pictures for National Geographic, when he runs into his sister, who is leading a mountain expedition for billionaire entrepreneur Elliot Vaughn (Bill Paxton) to the summit of K2, the toughest mountain to climb in the world. When a freak storm leaves Annie, Vaughn and their guide trapped in an icy cavern in the middle of the mountain, it's up to Peter and a team of climbers to get to them before they die.

Braving freezing weather, frequent avalanches and even a few explosions, the rescue team finally gets within striking distance of the trapped climbers. But bad blood between Vaughn and the rescue team leader, Montgomery Wick (Scott Glenn), as well as Vaugn's overarching focus on his own survival may yet lead to the death of Peter's sister before she can be brought back to safety...

Shot in the beautiful mountains of New Zealand, "Vertical Limit" is chock-full of some of the most arresting photography of any action movie this year. Sadly, the same is not true of the story - the plot is contrived, with numerous unconvincing sub-plots and irrelevant action sequences, and the actors (especially Chris O'Donnell and Robin Tunney) fail to bring any life to the characters they play.

The action sequences, though well-choreographed, get monotonous after a while, and the ending is incredibly contrived, so much so that it's actually hard to stifle a moan of anguish at the lack of originality displayed. Despite this, the direction and pacing of the entire film is professional; Martin Campbell known how to pick shots that count, and this is the sole saving grace of a film that's otherwise quite forgettable.

This article was first published on 14 Feb 2001.