A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.

Movie 442 – Cliffhanger

Cliffhanger – May 16th, 2011

I really should have known better than to agree to buy this. When Andy picked it out off the list my coworker gave me I was skeptical. I was fairly certain that I’d heard unpleasant things about it. When I was in high school a friend of mine told me about going to see a movie with a friend over winter break and how they’d been the only ones in the theater and how they’d mercilessly made fun of it and I’m pretty sure this is that movie. So when Andy pointed to it and said “Let’s get that,” I asked if he was sure. He told me yes, he’d enjoyed it. It wasn’t that bad. From now on I think when Andy says he enjoyed something I heard was horrible I’m going to insist on some second, third and fourth opinions. From people who don’t think The Creeping Terror is a masterpiece of cinema. I love my husband, but he did bring the remake of War of the Worlds into our home and he likes it.

I will admit, however, that this movie is loads more fun to watch than War of the Worlds was. Largely because I didn’t feel like this movie wanted me to hate it. On the contrary, this is a movie that very much wants me to root for the hero the whole way through. The hero gets some angst to justify his brooding demeanor but we’re made quite aware that the cause of it wasn’t his fault! And then he gets to go all Starship Mine on the bad guys, except instead of a starship it’s a mountain he’s crawling around and defending. And that’s cool and all. I mean, I won’t knock the premise. But it just doesn’t do it for me in the end. There’s too much macho shouting and too much pointless shooting and they kill off a sympathetic character just to be jerks and the female lead is all high pitched and squealy and eh. It falls flat for me.

Now, it is a lot of fun to mock this movie. It deserves it. Oh, does it deserve it. Much as I love John Lithgow, his scenery chewing alone would earn this movie mockery points. There is prime riffing potential running through this movie like a thick vein of cheesy ore. It’s just an overblown action movie with a big burly hero who has to kick some sociopath ass in an inhospitable environment. This isn’t a new plot or trope and it’s hardly going to go away now. This particular version of it relies on the setting for a large amount of the tension, with Lithgow’s character, Eric Qualen, providing the rest as he ruthlessly kills and laughs and revels in his reputation for being one nasty piece of work. It’s thoroughly believable that Qualen would do anything and kill anyone to get what he wants. His team are similarly ruthless, though not quite as bad-assed or smart as he is, so they get picked off one by one as Sylvester Stallone’s Gabe Walker stalks them. Or rather, he pre-stalks them, anticipating where they’ll go and getting there first.

Why yes, there is a plot here. Qualen and his men, including rogue Treasury Agent Travers, hijack a shipment of non-circulating large denomination US currency. Now, Andy and I had to look this up because we were curious about the bills being used. And it turns out that bills of $500 and up ceased to be produced quite some time back and while they’re legal, they’re also incredibly rare and mostly owned by collectors. This is actually a plot point, but I hadn’t been paying attention when it was mentioned at first because this movie was boring me to tears at the time and I was a lot more focused on why the FBI would be showing off and talking about classified information in the middle of an airport. But anyhow, there are these three cases of money and they steal them by means of an incredibly expensive stunt involving a sort of plane-to-plane breeches buoy. The heist goes wrong and the cases fall down to the mountains below, so the hijackers have to go get them. To do so they enlist the help of some search and rescue rangers on the mountain. And one of those rangers? Is Gabe Walker. The other is an old friend of his, Tucker. But he and Tucker are on the outs which kind of matters not one little bit in the end aside from being the source of Walker’s angst. Eventually a mutual friend of theirs shows up (that would be Gabe’s love interest, Jessie, also a ranger) so she can shriek at bats and get held hostage.

The bad guys assume early on that they’ve killed Gabe after he finds the first case, but once he meets up with Jessie they go after the other two cases, taking climbing shortcuts the bad buys don’t know about. They’ve still got Tucker but he’s taking them the long way around to give Gabe and Jessie time. So there’s a lot of cat and mouse going on here and really, I got bored with it. I’ve seen this plot done a bunch of times and I can name two television shows that did it better: The aforementioned Star Trek episode and then Highlander’s Bad Day in Building A. It all seems to pointlessly drawn out and dramatic here, and not in good ways. And part of that is that I never really feel the passion in Gabe’s mission. Sure, the baddies have his old friend, but his old friend’s also an accomplished climber. They’re both supposed to be these great mountaineers and rangers and when the whole situation begins the bad guys haven’t killed anyone either Gabe or Tucker know. They’re just obviously bad. Gabe gets all righteously pissed off because they have his friend and what? He feels guilt over the opening scene? The stakes don’t start out quite high enough for me to feel that burn.

I guess I also have some issues with the first scene and how it’s used by the movie. We start out with Jessie and Gabe showing up in a chopper to rescue Tucker and his girlfriend from the top of a peak called the Tower. Tucker’s knee’s gotten busted and he can’t climb down, so they need to do the breeches buoy type thing for him and the girlfriend. And as Gabe’s getting her harness secured she’s being all nervous and he assures her she’ll be fine. At that point I knew she was doomed. I said as much out loud and Andy asked how I could know. How could I not? She was practically wearing a red shirt. You can’t assure a minor character she’ll be fine that much and not have her die. So of course she falls to her gruesome death and Tucker blames Gabe and Gabe blames Gabe and I’m sitting there going “What the hell was she doing on that mountain?” Maybe it’s that I’ve read too much about Everest and the danger inexperienced climbers pose to both themselves and everyone else on the mountain, but seriously. If you can’t climb it, don’t. The movie uses this scene as emotional fodder for Gabe’s enormous angst cloud and for his touchy relationship with Walker. But beyond the first couple of interactions between them it doesn’t matter one bit. Let me make that clear: The movie plunges a young woman to her death to give the characters some emotional weight, then ignores said weight in favor of gunfire and explosions. If you’re not going to use it, don’t bother with it. Especially when it brings up questions about a main character’s judgement in the first place.

I was equally irritated with Jessie’s whole thing about the bats. Gabe seems just as spooked by them and I guess I would too if I was in the Rockies and found fruit bats, but still. One would thing rangers familiar with mountains and caves would be a little less shrill and panicky when faced with bats. The movie’s just full of this sort of stuff. Things tossed in for a bit of tension that makes little sense and ends up not mattering. And if the movie can’t seem to make its plot points matter to its plot, why should I bother paying attention? Why should I care at all? And the answer is that I don’t. I couldn’t make myself care about this movie for more than a minute or two at a time and even then? It was mostly so I could better mock it.

May 16, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Cliffhanger

May 16, 2011

Cliffhanger

Yes, yes. We own a Sylvester Stallone movie. But only the one.

This movie is a fun kind of throwback. It came out in 1993, but it feels like an action movie from the Eighties. Commando, maybe. Or Die Hard. It’s your typical lone renegade taking out bad guys in a hostile environment one by one.

Our stalwart hero is Gabe Walker, mountain ranger. He’s part of an elite crew of rangers in the Rocky Mountains who perform search and rescue missions. After a disastrous rescue attempt that results in the death of the young trophy girlfriend of one of his buddies Gabe is through with climbing and with the mountains in general. Before he can leave though an unlikely series of events endangers his friend Hal (who still blames Gabe for his girlfriend’s death.) A group of merciless terrorists have committed a daring mid-air heist of a shipment of millions of dollars of freshly minted bills. (Freshly minted $1000 bills it would seem – which is odd since $1000 bills were removed from circulation in 1969 and haven’t been printed since 1948) In the process however the plane the terrorists were using has crashed in the mountains and the cases with the money have been strewn across the inaccessible and snow covered cliffs. The thieves call for assistance and so it is that Gabe and Hal end up in their clutches.

As happens in this kind of movie the thieves try to kill Gabe with an avalanche, which he completely avoids, and he spends the rest of the movie hunting them down. His girlfriend (also a rescue ranger, but not a chipmunk) eventually goes into the mountains to find him and he has to rescue her a few times as well.

Now I know for Amanda this was a bog-standard and fairly cliched and disappointing action movie, but I actually do enjoy it. It has a couple of stars in it I really like. John Lithgow for one as the ruthless terrorist Qualen. Janine Turner for another, who I loved from Northern Exposure, although she’s largely wasted here as a screaming victim to be protected and rescued. Most of all though I love the stunts in this movie.

This movie is all about rock climbing. It’s right there in the title. It has a weak plot aimed at getting in as many scenes of people clinging to cliff faces as possible. Now I should mention that I have a debilitating and irrational fear of heights. This movie is proof that vertigo is a very hard thing to replicate on a movie screen. I can watch all this stuff about people dangling at great heights with no problem. Indeed I spend a lot of time as I’m watching this movie admiring the climbing on display and wondering how they got some of the impossible shots they have. In particular there’s one impossible shot during the opening scene where the camera cranes around from behind Gabe to over him and swoops about to follow him as he ascends an impossible cliff face. Is it special effects? Is it a stunt man? I honestly can’t tell – all I know is that it looks awesome and I completely believe it. I don’t think for an instant that they actually dangled Sylvester Stallone off of any mountain tops, but clearly they did put some daring men into these positions, and that is what I end up watching the movie for.

It’s a silly, cheesy, predictable movie. I’m not denying that. It has laughable special effects in some parts (such as the bullet impacts and a couple explosions added in post that look clearly pasted on.) It has crazy ridiculous over-acting and John Lithgow’s accent wanders all over the UK. It is also filled with really impressive stunt and camera work, though, and I find that for me at least that is enough to make it worth owning. At least worth owning for the $2 we spent on it.

May 16, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , | Leave a comment