Cliffhanger (1993)

Suits, Socks, 100 Million Dollars – The Usual Stuff

Today’s movie is in a much similar vein as the previously reviewed Speed.  It’s another classic action movie that some may consider a little cheesy, but in the very least should be a lot of fun.  Unlike Speed, I’m pretty positive that I had seen this one all the way through already, but I didn’t remember it that clearly.  All I really remember is who was in the movie, and that the opening scene of this movie was classically parodied in one of my favorite comedies, Ace Ventura: When Nature Calls.  I knew that I would probably end up liking Ace Ventura better as a movie, but let’s see how the original scene holds up in my review of Cliffhanger, written by John Long, Michael France, and Sylvester Stallone, directed by Renny Harlin, and starring Sylvester Stallone, John Lithgow, Michael Rooker, Janine Turner, Rex Linn, Caroline Goodall, Ralph Waite, Leon Robinson, Craig Fairbrass, Paul Winfield, and Michelle Joyner.

Starting off with a scene stolen right out of Ace Ventura: When Nature Calls, rescue ranger Gabe Walker (Sylvester Stallone) climbs a mountain, looking not for a raccoon, but his friend Hal Tucker (Michael Rooker) and Hal’s girlfriend Sarah (Michelle Joyner).  With the help of Gabe’s girlfriend Jessie Deighan (Janine Turner) and pilot Frank (Ralph Waite), they put a safety line going between 2 mountains.  Hal easily gets across the gap, but Sarah is more jittery about it.  Halfway through, her harness breaks.  Gabe does everything he can to save her, but she plummets to her death.  Eight months later, a group of criminals rob a jet of $100 million from the US Department of Treasury, but shit goes wrong, causing the plane to crash on the mountain with the three cases of money lost on various locations of the mountain.  The leader of the group, former Military Intelligence member Eric Qualen (John Lithgow), is less than pleased with the man who betrayed the Treasury, Richard Travers (Rex Linn).  Qualen’s lady friend, Kristel (Caroline Goodall), calls in for a rescue.  Hal gets the call and heads out to rescue them, not knowing what he’s walking in to.  Jessie tries to convince the recently returned Gabe to join him, but Gabe is hesitant due to Hal’s anger with him and his own fear of going back on the mountain, but he begrudgingly agrees.  Once they reach the criminals, Hal and Gabe are apprehended and made to lead the criminals to the money.

I liked Ace Ventura better, but this was still a pretty fun movie.  They called themselves Cliffhanger, and they definitely delivered on that promise.  There’s lots of hanging from cliffs, lots of shootouts and fist fights, lots of cheesy dialogue, a menacing bad guy, and all the things you’d want out of such a movie.  I got a little bothered by the opening scene of the movie, although it was a pretty great scene altogether.  It’s a very memorable scene with a good deal of tension, and sets up the tale of anger and forgiveness between Sly and Rooker.  They didn’t make very much out of this anger though.  There were a couple angry words from Rooker and a little bit of shoving, but he gets over it pretty quick into the movie when Sly is actually in danger.  The thing that bothered me about the opening scene is I don’t know why it needed to happen like that.  It’s obvious why it happened from a movie making point of view, but why did they decide to run the line between two mountains when they probably could have just hovered above them in the helicopter and reeled them in one by one?  This would’ve made the scene pointless, but they didn’t play that heavily on Rooker being mad at Sly, or even on Sly’s decision to not go up the mountain again, but it bothered me that they seemingly decided to do something pointless that got someone killed.  Still, it’s a great scene.  The rest of the movie doesn’t waste much time with story and dialogue, but it remains entertaining throughout.  One of the things I thought of as being interesting was that Sly took part in the writing, but really didn’t make himself too much of a badass.  He got his ass kicked a pretty good amount, most memorably by the guy from Cool Runnings, Leon Robinson.  Sure, Sly eventually won by body pressing him into a stalagtite, but I would generally expect someone who is as big of a jock as Sly would not be keen on letting his butt get kicked.

The performances were pretty solid for a big dumb action movie.  Sly was in great shape for this part, being in not so rare form with muscles that were ripped to shreds, and that was about all his part really called for.  He was also still able to articulate at this point, so you could actually understand what he was saying.  He pulled off his action and his suspense, and didn’t really do a lot of emotional stuff, but pulled off the slightly emotional parts he had to.  John Lithgow was pretty great in this movie as well.  He was more of a mastermind and didn’t get his hands dirty so much, but was still pretty intimidating.  He didn’t really kill anyone himself except for his female associate that he may or may not have been intimately acquainted with, but it showed that this guy wasn’t fuckin’ around.  He added a lot more quality to the dialogue that probably wouldn’t have been there in the hands of another actor.  Rooker was pretty good as well.  I thought he didn’t seem to be taking the loss of his girlfriend nearly as harshly as Sly did, and that was a little weird, but he still did good.  Janine Turner didn’t do much beyond the typical damsel in distress stuff though.  Leon Robinson’s character was a pretty imposing figure, but I didn’t like him very much.  What kind of bad guy actually says that he’s only going to ask a question three times?  I know that a lot of bad guys actually give them three tries to answer the question, but you don’t tell them that.  Then they know how long they can wait before you kill them for not answering it!

This movie definitely holds up as fun times.  Sure, it’s kind of stupid and a few things don’t make sense to me, but the action is great and the movie is entertaining all the way through.  The performances aren’t anything spectacular, but they work for the movie.  And Lithgow was the bomb.  I streamed this here movie off of the Netflix.  It’s a pretty popular movie, so you may have already seen it, but if you haven’t it’s a good time to check it out streaming.  If you’ve seen it, it’s still fun, so check it out again.  It’s also probably cheap enough that it belongs in any respectable collection.  Cliffhanger gets “Your friend just had the most expensive funeral in history” out of “Do you know what real love is?  Sacrifice…”

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Cool Runnings (1993)

Let Me Kiss Your Lucky Egg

After that last downer of a movie, I needed to be reassured that a movie about black people could raise my spirits and not crush them.  But wherever would I find such a movie?  The answer came in the form of a live-action Disney movie that I had last seen in my youth, requested for review by my friend Yimmy.  And it’s just the movie to close your day out with after being thoroughly depressed by Precious.  Based not on a book by Sapphire, but on a true story from the 1988 Winter Olympics.  Based on the debut of the Jamaica national bobsled team I give you my review … of Cool Runnings, written by Lynn Siefert, Tommy Swerdlow, and Michael Goldberg, directed by Jon Turteltaub, and starring Leon Robinson, Doug E. Doug, Malik Yoba, Rawle D. Lewis, John Candy, Raymond J. Barry, and Peter Outerbridge.  It’s bobsled time!

Derice Bannock (Leon Robinson) has a dream to follow in his father’s footsteps and get into the Olympics as a sprinter.  He practices all the time for it.  When the time comes for the qualifying race, he goes up against really angry dude Yul Brenner (Malik Yoba) and meek rich kid Junior Bevil (Rawle D. Lewis), but Junior trips and makes Derice and Brenner fall as well, losing the race for all three.  While trying to argue his way into another shot at the race, Derice finds out that his father was once propositioned by Irving Blitzer (John Candy) to become a bobsledder.  Derice then begs Blitzer into becoming the coach of Jamaica’s first Olympic bobsled team, comprised of Derice, Junior, Brenner, and Derice’s long-time friend Sanka Coffie (Doug E. Doug).  Our boys face plenty of adversity on their way to the Olympics, such as funding, disapproving parents, loss of the sense of self, being the laughing stocks of the Olympics, and Blitzer’s tainted history.  Something tells me the boys are gonna be just fine.

There is plenty to be said that is “wrong” with this movie, but I can’t help myself: this movie is good times.  It utilizes plenty of cliches and has some laughs that are easy, but it’s good times.  It’s a movie that makes you feel good like you’re Halle Berry in Monster’s Ball.  It’s a comedy, but generally the laughs play more as quaint than funny.  It is, however, a kid friendly comedy, so that’s to be expected.  You’ll see some slapsticky comedy too, as that’s mostly what kids would find funny, but there were a couple of parts in the movie that made me chuckle.  But, I would say that this movie is far more of a feel-good movie than a comedy, and it succeeds in leaving a warm feeling in your belly.  They do settle for a lot of pretty easy staples of the “overcoming adversity” genre.  You’ll find an inexplicably asinine competitor, the movie will REQUIRE at least one montage, and just for good measure, throw in a slow clap.  And I bet those asinine competitors will see the error in the way and deliver a few good “You know what?  You’re all right” lines.  One might also think that the finale ::SPOILERS:: of the bobsled team crashing in their final run and walking across the finish line to massive applause is a bit cliche, except for one little thing: them shits happened!  And they used the footage of the actual crash of the Jamaican bobsled team in the movie, and just switched it over to them carrying the broken bobsled instead of walking it across the finish line.  ::END SPOILERS::  Typically, I would be annoyed by such abuse of cliches, but this movie charms me so much that I’m cool with it.  It’s a fantastic example of the underdog movie.  I also took note of the fact that they didn’t go for the easy and obvious racism route (since the black team has a bit of a feud with the white team), but their feud wasn’t about race, but location.  The “popular kids” were popular because they’re from an icy location that would be expected to succeed in such a sport, especially over a team from a tropical island place that would seemingly have no right to participate.  It also has a nice overall message that you shouldn’t change who you are just to win, but succeed by finding out who you really are and what’s really important.

The performances are all fine in the movie, but most of the people don’t really have to stretch their acting chops in order to pull off their part.  Leon Robinson is the de facto leader of the team, and has to face his own little identity crisis, but never really has to emote that hard.  Doug E. Doug also doesn’t really emote, but he’s mainly here to be comic relief.  He’s almost the only person that even tries to be openly funny in the movie.  Rawle D. Lewis probably has the most emotion in his part because of his brief conflict with his disapproving father, and he does it fine.  Malik Yoba never really convinced me that he was as much of a tough guy as he was made out to be in the movie, but he still did a fine job.  John Candy was the biggest draw in the movie for me, but also a bit depressing.  He was so damned good and it is such a freaking shame that the man is gone.  He never really hammed for laughs in the movie, but did get a couple.  He also had an impassioned speech or two and a couple of good emotional scenes regarding the reason his gold medals had been taken away from him.  Damnit John Candy’s good as shit!

This movie was never intended to win an Oscar, but it succeeds in winning your heart.  Yeah, that’s good shit right there, Robert!  The writing is a little easy, either because it goes for a bunch of cliche’s or because it bases itself on a real story, but it works.  It’s cute, it’s charming, it’s heart-warming.  The performances are all fine, and John Candy was awesome.  I miss you, Barf!  Thank you, Yimmy, for pestering me into watching a movie to take me out of the slump that Fabio’s Precious put me into.  Cool Runnings gets “I didn’t realize that four black guys in a bobsled could make you blush” out of “I see pride, I see power”.

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