Thursday, February 12, 2015

Blast from the Past Movie Review: Cliffhanger (1993)

The latest movie I've watched for my friend Nick's podcast Myopia: Defend Your Childhood is the 1993 Sylvester Stallone film Cliffhanger.

I'm pretty sure I wasn't allowed to see this when I came out in theaters (I would have been around nine, so that was probably a good idea), but I do remember playing the Sega Genesis game and failing to get beyond the first level, an adaptation of the avalanche scene. Here's the podcast, which among other things includes me adapting Sir Mix-A-Lot's "Baby Got Back" to comment on some of the character's fashion choices. But now the review...



The Plot

After a woman dies in a botched climbing rescue, mountain rescue ranger Gabe Walker (Stallone) leaves his Colorado mountain community. He returns eight months later to an annoyed wife or girlfriend Jessie (Stallone wears a ring and they're living together, but the reviews refer to her as "girlfriend") and his buddy Hal who blames him for the accident, only to be forced to participate in a plan by a bunch of criminals to retrieve some stolen money.

The Good

*The movie is quite entertaining and moves along quickly. There was only one part toward the end, before the climax of the film, where I got bored.

*The opening scene, even though I knew it was going to end badly from its parody in Ace Ventura: When Nature Calls and the fact my companions were discussing it while we were watching the film, is still pretty darn suspenseful and frightening.

*Jessie (Janine Turner) is generally a pretty competent character in her own right rather than a damsel in distress. She does end up in trouble at the end of the film, but it's for intelligent reasons rather than a contrived excuse to have Sylvester Stallone save her.

*The film does provide some character development and differentiation among its villains. Delmar appears to be a white South African and antagonizes the black Kynette to the point the latter draws a knife on him. He later utilizes his soccer skills from his college days to absolutely brutalize another character (and provoke a really funny riposte from said character). Kynette, meanwhile, is a martial artist capable of putting serious hurt on Stallone himself. Sole female Krystel is pretty sneaky--claiming they need insulin to get the rescuers coming faster and pretending to be injured to lure more. And although mastermind Eric Qualen (John Lithgow) gets mocked in some reviews for hiring a bunch of minions who all hate each other, this keeps them from joining forces to challenge him.

*There are some well-done character deaths, including "death by stalactite." Here's the entirety of the fight scene in question, but SPOILERS!

*When the initial heist takes place, there are some good red herrings. I thought somebody else was the inside man for awhile.

*During the heist scene, the trope of "a single bullet hole decompresses the plane" I remember from a skyjacking episode of The A-Team (and apparently commonly believed by opponents of having armed air marshals) is avoided. It takes a sustained burst of gunfire punching multiple holes in a small, flimsy plane to affect the plane's air supply.

*The humor generally works, including the creative use of a snowman on top of the soccer joke I referenced earlier, another joke involving burning money, and a scene involving machine-gunning small animals. Yes, it's possible to make that funny.

The Bad

*The woman's death in the beginning was completely avoidable. Not just in the obvious sense of mountain-rescuer Hal having the intelligence to not take an inexperienced girlfriend climbing to the top of a gigantic vertical tower, but the way they handled the actual rescue. Firstly, the woman could have been sent across first instead of Hal (who, to be fair, was injured), since she's less experienced, isn't as heavy as Hal, and in any event it's the chivalrous thing to do. Hal would have been better able to handle the harness breaking up like it did, even with his (minor) injury. Secondly, the helicopter could have hovered right alongside the top of the tower, close enough for them to step off it into the helicopter. Failing that, they could have still come much closer to the tower, reducing the distances involved and thus the risk.

*Actor Rex Linn, who plays baddie Travers, has some serious delivery problems in a couple scenes.

*In several scenes, the baddies' guns look obviously fake. If you can't get quality fake guns, don't film them too closely lest it be too obvious they're made of plastic.

*There's a scene involving swarming bats that doesn't really serve any purpose. I initially thought the bats would alert the villains to the fact they're being pursued, but that didn't seem to happen. Everything included in a book or story has to serve the overall project and however cool a scary bat scene might be, it didn't help out and either should have been made to do so (see my suggestion) or cut completely.

*I don't remember Kynette's martial-arts abilities ever referenced before. However impressive they are, they come out nowhere.

*John Lithgow's British accent isn't very good and at one moment seems to disappear entirely. Plus they only refer to him as coming from "Military Intelligence." If he's British, it would be the Intelligence Corps, although if they wanted to invoke the mystique of James Bond, having him as a rogue member of MI-6 would have been cool.

*A major character's death is unintentionally hilarious.

*In one scene, a character is menaced by wolves that we never see again. I referred to them as "Chekhov's Wolves." I seriously expected them to return later in the film--perhaps to inflict the comeuppance of a villain who thought he escaped justice, a la Brotherhood of the Wolf.

The Verdict

See it once and you'll be entertained. Depending on how much you like action movies, it may or may not hold up for more than that. 7.5 out of 10.

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