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Movie Review


MPAA Rating: R-Rating (MPAA) for violence and language

Reviewed by: Brett Willis

Very Offensive
Moviemaking Quality:

Primary Audience:
Action, Adventure
1 hr. 53 min.
Year of Release:
USA Release:
Relevant Issues
Box art for “Cliffhanger”
Featuring: Sylvester Stallone, John Lithgow, Michael Rooker, Janine Turner, Rex Linn
Director: Renny Harlin
Producer: Alan Marshall, Renny Harlin, Gene Patrick Hines, James R. Zotolokin, David Rotman, Mario Kassar, Lynwood Spinks, Tony Munafo, Jim Davidson
Distributor: TriStar

This big-budget Sylvester Stallone action film features some fantastic high-mountain stunts (most of them aren’t CG or camera tricks, but are done the old-fashioned way with invisible safety wires) and a nonstop storyline. But the plot is almost too fantastic to suspend disbelief for, and the dialogue (including some of the attempts at comic relief) is painful at times. it’s not a serious treatment of its subject, just a high-octane thrill ride.

In the opening grab, Rocky Mountain Rescue climber Gabe Walker (Stallone) climbs an inverted rock face to help off-duty fellow-rescuer Hal Tucker (Michael Rooker) and his girlfriend Sarah (Tucker had made a bad decision, attempting a climb on an injured knee). The rescue goes wrong, resulting in a loss of confidence by Gabe and in bad blood between him and Hal. Gabe drops out of rescue work.

Several months later, Gabe is persuaded to help Hal with one last rescue. Problem is, it’s a phony call. The stranded climbers are really hijackers who had just pulled off a midair heist of $100 million from a Treasury Department plane but then lost the three electronic-tagged money cases in the mountains. They need Hal and Gabe’s help in reaching the cases, after which the rescuers will be expendable. So Hal and Gabe must put aside their differences and work together to outwit psychopathic gang leader Eric Qualen (John Lithgow).

Content Warnings

The violence is extreme at times; there are several deaths by gunfire and falls. In two cases of killing of innocent people, the sound of the automatic weapons fire is muted; I’m not sure if that makes it better or worse. Profanity is extreme; I lost count of the instances of certain words. There’s no real sexual content (it’s implied that Hal and Gabe are intimate with their girlfriends). Qualen and his cohorts are an assortment of over-the-top scumbags. Qualen is a little too comic-booky to be believable; he’ll even kill his own gang members when it suits his purposes. (Lithgow was credible as a villain in 1976’s “Obsession,” but he’s better in a comedy role or singing children’s songs.) And since the robbery was an “inside job,” there’s the upsetting theme of a government agent—perhaps more than one—gone bad. Aside from the “action,” some of the climbing stunts will be hard to watch if you’re emotionally sensitive or afraid of heights.

Positive Content

The heroes—the Rocky Mountain Rescue team—are heroes indeed. Hal, Gabe, Gabe’s girlfriend Jessie (Janine Turner, TV’s “Northern Exposure”) and chopper pilot Frank (Ralph Waite, TV’s “The Waltons”) are shown doing a thankless job with no regard for their own safety. In the real world, people in many high-risk professions (police, fire, rescue) do that every day. Most days for folks in those jobs are routine; yet any particular day might be their last. “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.” (John 15:13)

Viewer Comments
I really enjoyed this movie. The action was great while I enjoyed the acting too. But I especially enjoyed the action. I could have done without all the language though.
My Ratings: [Very Offensive / 4½]
Matthew Thomas, age 16