CLIFFHANGER - DVD of the Week
For Hicksflicks.com, Friday, Jan. 18, 2019
EDITOR’S NOTE: Sony has just released the superior Sylvester Stallone action thriller ‘Cliffhanger’ on 4K so here’s my review, published in the Deseret News on May 28, 1993.
When "Cliffhanger" is doing its "Vertigo" thing, it is an incredibly effective thriller, with an opening scene that is so intense audience members will work up a sweat and strain their fingers gripping the armrests on their theater seats.
And that's enough to warrant this three-star recommendation for action fans.
But it is too bad director Renny Harlin ("Die Hard 2") and screenwriters Michael France and Sylvester Stallone couldn't keep the story and level of violence from sinking into a morass of clichés.
Still, action fans won't be disappointed. Harlin knows how to grab the audience immediately, then build a series of thrilling moments until the hold-onto-your-hats climax, which is a knockout.
Sylvester Stallone, Janine Turner, 'Cliffhanger'
Stallone, who rewrote France's original script, stars as a professional mountain climber working with the Rocky Mountain Rescue Team (the many mountain scenes were actually filmed in Italy). The opening sequence has Stallone climbing up to a dangerous peak where his friend and colleague Michael Rooker has taken an inexperienced girlfriend.
This gripping rescue ends in tragedy and Stallone and the rest of the team (Rooker, Janine Turner, Ralph Waite) are shattered by it. While everyone else stays on, however, Stallone disappears for eight months. Then he returns, to ask Turner to leave with him, intending to give up mountain climbing for good.
Meanwhile, evil John Lithgow and a team of high-tech crooks are hijacking a U.S. Treasury plane to steal $300 million in brand-new notes. But their plans go awry, the three cases of money fall into the mountains and their plane crashes.
So, Lithgow summons the rescue team, and Stallone and Rooker show up. They are forced to help search for the money, but soon Stallone has broken away and is on his own. His goal is to reach the money first, realizing that when Lithgow gets what he wants, he'll kill Rooker.
Turner soon gets in the thick of things as well, in a particularly thankless way. The "Northern Exposure" star begins with a character who is initially quite strong. But soon she becomes a hanger-on, whining and doing stupid things, as all women tend to do in macho thrillers.
There is also too high a body count, too many sympathetic characters killed off and a mean-spirited sense of nastiness that pervades the overall film, in an attempt to show us just how cold-blooded Lithgow is. And the gore quotient is also too high, with globs of blood in fight scenes and one killing that seems right out of a "Friday the 13th" movie.
Still, for all these complaints, and despite some of the dialogue being far too clichéd, there are so many amazing thrill sequences that get the blood pumping, fans of this sort of thing will likely be in heaven.
"Cliffhanger," rated R for violence, gore and profanity, is the only "Die Hard"/"Lethal Weapon"-style thriller of the summer season, and as a result will likely have a long run.