A consistently intelligent (or at least bright), coherently constructed comedy that is on occasion a rather pointed critique of the American education system in the…
Somebody, I think it was me, was observing the other day that Hollywood never really stopped making B pictures; they simply gave them $100 million budgets and marketed them as A pictures. "Vertical Limit" is an example: It's made from obvious formulas and pulp novel conflicts, but strongly acted and well crafted. The movie may be compared with "The Perfect Storm," another adventure about humans challenging the implacable forces of nature. One difference is that "Storm" portrays the egos and misjudgments of its characters honestly, and makes them pay for their mistakes, while "Vertical Limit" chugs happily toward one of those endings where everyone gets exactly what they deserve, in one way or another, except for a few expendable supporting characters.
It's a danger signal whenever a movie brings nitroglycerin into the plot. Nitro has appeared in good films like "The Wages of Fear" and "Sorcerer," but even there it exhibits most peculiar quality, which is that it invariably detonates precisely in sync with the requirements of the plot.
"Vertical Limit" introduces nitro into a situation where three climbers are trapped in an ice cave near the top of K2. They are a venal millionaire ("This is a life statement for me"), an experienced guide and the hero's sister. The hero gathers a group of six volunteers on a possibly suicidal rescue mission. They bring along nitro, and although I know that explosives are used from time to time on mountains to jar loose avalanches, the movie never explains how an uncontrollable nitro explosion has the potential to help the trapped victims more than harm them. The one scene where nitro is used as intended does nothing to answer the question.
The rest of the time, the nitro is necessary to endanger the rescue party, to provide suspense, to shock us with unintended explosions and to dispose of minor characters so there won't be anything but speaking parts left for the climax. The nitro serves as evidence that "Vertical Limit" is not so much a sincere movie about the dangers and codes of mountain climbing as a thriller with lots of snow. At that, however, it is pretty good, and I can recommend the movie as a B adventure while wondering what kind of an A movie might have been made from similar material.