Vertical Limit (March 21/01)
Vertical Limit, the latest big-budget extravaganza from Martin Campbell (GoldenEye and The Mask of Zorro), makes an excellent case against the entire concept of mountain climbing. Chris O'Donnell stars as a hotshot mountain climber who loses his nerve after essentially killing his father in a freak accident on - where else? - a mountain. Robin Tunney co-stars as his sister, who also happens to be a hotshot mountain climber. She's on an expedition with a rich businessman (Bill Paxton's Elliot Vaughn) when they get stuck in an avalanche. It's up to O'Donnell to put aside his fears and save his sister. Vertical Limit is about as silly as movies come, but the only thing that really counts is whether or not the action sequences are exciting. And they certainly are, in a big way. From the opening, which contains the tragic death of O'Donnell and Tunney's dad, to that shot from all the commercials featuring O'Donnell jumping from one cliff to another, Vertical Limit has a decent amount of exciting moments. What it also has, unfortunately, is a lot of talking. At a running time of just under two hours, the movie is probably about a half hour too long. Much of the first hour of the film (excluding the aforementioned opening sequence) features a bunch of people standing around and talking about how dangerous the expedition would be. I suppose Campbell felt that all this stuff was necessary in order to get us to care what happens to O'Donnell and his crew, but really, a short Armageddon-style introduction to all the characters would have sufficed. But once all that stuff is finished and done with, the movie essentially throws in one action sequence after another (even the helicopter trip to the top of the mountain is perilous). The whole last hour is quite exciting and fun to watch, with O'Donnell's surprisingly effective and charismatic turn as the film's hero ensuring that one can't help but root for his character's success. The supporting cast is good (particularly Scott Glenn as an ultra-grizzled and bitter ex-mountain climber), but the real reason to see Vertical Limit is for the special effects. And, of course, for the exploding volcano of blood (which you really have to see to believe).
The Legend of Zorro (October 26/05)
As far as useless, entirely unwarranted sequels go, The Legend of Zorro is surely right up there alongside such needless followups as Meet the Fockers and The Whole Ten Yards. Star Antonio Banderas looks much too old for this kind of role, while the action sequences have a perfunctory, been-there-done-that feel to them. It certainly doesn't help that the film, in an effort to appeal to younger viewers, has been saddled with a surfeit of puerile jokes and an emphasis on Zorro's 10-year-old son (who just happens to be a master swordsman). The movie - which follows Don Alejandro de la Vega (Banderas) and Elena (Catherine Zeta-Jones) as they team up to defeat a villainous Count (Rufus Sewell) out to sabotage California's entry into the Union - kicks off with a ridiculously over-the-top action sequence that feels as though it'd be more at home in The Three Amigos, something that's generally true of the light-hearted, thoroughly innocuous vibe hard-wired into the film by director Martin Campbell. This is slick, calculating entertainment that's been designed to appeal to as wide an audience as possible, and despite the efforts of screenwriters Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci (or maybe because of it), The Legend of Zorro comes off as nothing more than a hopelessly routine adventure flick. Banderas' lackluster acting certainly doesn't help matters, although he's practically Oscar-worthy compared to Zeta-Jones' trainwreck of a performance. Wearing about a pound of make-up and bathed in soft-focus lighting, Zeta-Jones' unnaturally distracting presence precludes the possibility of taking her even a little bit seriously in the role. Sewell is appropriately smarmy, but he's done this sort of thing many times before in far better movies (ie A Knight's Tale). The heavy focus on Zorro's scrappy son (played by Adrian Alonso) quickly proves to be an astoundingly disastrous choice, as the kid comes off as nothing less than a shameless attempt to go after the Spy Kids crowd. That, coupled with the film's focus on hopelessly asinine comedy bits (ie Zorro's beer-guzzling, burping horse), effectively ensures that The Legend of Zorro will turn off all but the most indiscriminating, undemanding viewer.
Click here for review.
Edge of Darkness (February 2/10)
Mel Gibson's so-called comeback vehicle, Edge of Darkness follows grizzled Boston cop Thomas Craven (Mel Gibson) as he unravels a far-reaching conspiracy after launching an investigation into the brutal murder of his activist daughter (Bojana Novakovic's Emma). Director Martin Campbell has infused Edge of Darkness with an almost aggressively deliberate sensibility that effectively holds the viewer at arm's length from start to finish, with the less-than-engrossing vibe exacerbated by a central mystery that's rarely as enthralling as one imagines it's meant to be. The inclusion of a few admittedly stirring action sequences elevates the proceedings on an all-too-infrequent basis, while Gibson's expectedly sturdy performance - his questionable Boston accent notwithstanding - ensures that Edge of Darkness remains watchable even in the face of some seriously lackluster encounters and interludes. And although the supporting cast has been peppered with such noted scene-stealers as Danny Huston, Denis O'Hare, and Ray Winstone, there's simply never a point at which Campbell is able to convincingly cultivate the atmosphere of gritty authenticity demanded by William Monahan and Andrew Bovell's convoluted screenplay. The final result is a passable yet wholly underwhelming piece of work that's hardly the fast-paced thriller promised by its promotional materials, with the lack of elements designed to capture (and hold) the viewer's interest ultimately rendering its positive attributes moot.