Cliffhanger

Cliffhanger. Carolco Pictures 1993.

Before watching the movie:

There’s really only one thing I can say about what I know about this movie. It’s pretty clearly meant to be a “Die Hard on an X” type adventure. There’s a single guy accidentally in the wrong place at the right time thwarting bad guys. Like Under Siege. Like Air Force One. Probably like other movies I’ve blogged and can’t remember.

However, it’s also Sylvester Stallone fighting the bad guys single-handedly, so it’s probably also meant to be like Stallone movies like First Blood, or rather, like the Rambo sequels that dropped the main thematic point of the original.

All of that is to say that I don’t know what this movie is, but I’m pretty sure I know exactly what other movies they wanted me to think of by making it.

After watching the movie:

Eight months ago, mountain rangers Gabe and Jessie went out to rescue their friend Hal and his girlfriend Sarah after Hal’s knee injury got them stuck on a peak. With the wind too high for the helicopter to land, Gabe sent them across a wire, and Hal got to safety, but Sarah’s harness broke, and Gabe, going out on the wire to get her, couldn’t hold on and she fell to her death. Hal bitterly blamed Gabe and Gabe went out of state on leave to get away from the guilt and trauma. Now, returning to Colorado to take his last possessions from the station and try to convince Jessie to leave with him, Gabe is talked into going out to provide backup to Hal on a mission to rescue a large group of lost climbers. In reality, the “lost climbers” are an international group of thieves whose plane crashed when their attempt to steal three briefcases of money in midair from a US Treasury plane went pear-shaped and the briefcases were dropped on the mountainside, and Gabe and Hal find themselves welcomed at gunpoint and ordered to guide them through the mountains to the signals of the tracking devices in the cases. When Gabe climbs to the first case, Hal calls out to him that the criminals plan to kill him when he comes down, and Gabe escapes, leaving the gang to believe him dead when their shooting at him triggers an avalanche. Gabe makes his way to an old mountain cabin where he finds Jessie, flown out there to wait for a sign of the lost climbers, and they gather some antique climbing gear to go back out and rescue Hal and stymie the thieves’ hunt for the remaining cases.

While many movies easily fall into being Die Hard clones, I don’t think this really has the same feel. The terrain of the Rocky Mountains isolates the action, but it doesn’t seem as enclosed as a lot of single-location one-man guerrilla warfare stories. Also, Gabe has stronger allies with him throughout who aren’t just sidekicks, but players on an almost equal footing. This is just kind of its own action adventure on the mountaintops, and you can see all the money that was put into making it look amazing.

Most of the villains are uninteresting, and unfortunately that includes the leader Qualen. I know that John Lithgow can do menacing, but he rarely achieves what he’s going for here, and the only real notable thing about the character is that he’s got the face of Dick from Third Rock From The Sun (a handicap I note did not exist when the movie was made). Maybe it’s the writing, maybe it’s the accent he’s affecting that makes him less scary, but I just never found the ability to care about him as a threat. Travers, the Treasury turncoat, is at least supposed to not be cut out for this kind of work, so I kind of enjoyed watching him. There are two other really nasty members of the gang that I found more threatening, but the rest were basically cannon fodder.

I feel like what marketing I saw boxed this in unfairly. Maybe it’s more of a Rambo than a Die Hard, but it doesn’t seem nearly as by the numbers as I was led to expect. This is a properly exciting action adventure that doesn’t seem to stand on cliches, and it cuts its path through the vistas of the Colorado Rockies. Sometimes it’s very easy to over-categorize.

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