According to the film, the so-called "vertical limit" is the altitude above which a human being cannot survive for very long. Until one of the characters actually explained that, I thought it was the altitude above which egotistical actors finally found it necessary to wear a hat.
You can pretty much toss out the notion that this is going to be any sort of realistic mountain climbing movie once you realize that you can't stuff an actor in a hooded parka and face shield and expect him to do anything other than demand to talk to his agent. Thus, Peter Garrett (Chris O'Donnell) and his mountain-climbing friends are wandering around the base camp of K-2 -- at what one would presume is 17,000 or 19,000 feet -- in regular clothes. As if. O'Donnell looks like the kind of pansy who throws a fit when the bubbles in the hot tub stop.
Believe it or not, I actually could have forgiven this bit of stupidity if the movie had tried for something better than a kindergarten-level story. Let's start with the opening, where Peter and his sister Annie (Robin Tunney) are climbing with their father when some other climbers fall on them, leaving them dangling. Good old dad, ever the sacrificial lamb, demands that Peter cut him loose so he and Annie can survive. Peter does, and naturally, he's riddled with guilt and it causes a rift between him and his sister. His sister goes on to climbing fame. Peter photographs snow leopards.
Well, Peter gets the chance to prove he's not Wuss Boy when Annie goes climbing with billionaire Elliot Vaughn (Bill Paxton) on K-2. Vaughn is doing some publicity stunt and refuses to turn back when the weather gets bad and Peter ends up having to rescue them with the help of the sickliest looking mountain climber of all-time, Montgomery Wick (Scott Glenn). Scott Glenn doesn't look like he could climb up my leg, much less K-2, but because he's spiritual (we see him praying all the damn time), we're left to assume that Buddha has blessed him with Crampons for feet.
This film has so many clichés and repetitive, predictable moments, it would have been more tense were it narrated by Mr. Rogers. The "spiritual" mountain-climbing expert, the heartless billionaire, the sister with something to prove, the unforgiving mountain -- they're all painfully overworked. Oh, and did I mention the nitroglycerine the rescue team carries? It's not even clear why they bring it. It's not like they know in advance that the survivors are buried in a huge hole and that they need explosives to get to them. Did I mention the bad acting? What'll really get you at the end is that, after all this crap, it's the worst actors who all end up surviving.
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