That’s some mountain, all right.
A gigantic mountain of ridiculous, snow-covered steaming …
For the first hour or so, “The Mountain Between Us” is a tedious and corny survival story, but at least it’s bearable, thanks mainly to the all-in performances from Kate Winslet and Idris Elba as a couple of strangers stranded in the unforgiving, icy wilderness of northern Utah, clawing and climbing and bantering and bickering as they desperately try to remain alive.
And then … there’s the potential for romance? Are you kidding me?
He’s got broken ribs and cuts and bruises, she’s got a badly fractured lower leg and other injuries. They’re running out of food, they’re always on the brink of frostbite. He took a nasty spill on a steep cliff. She broke through the ice and nearly drowned. They were nearly killed by a cougar.
Not to mention the fact neither one of them has been near a shower or a bar of soap in a very long time.
Oh, and they’re fairly certain they’re going to die any time soon.
And oh yeah, she’s engaged.
What a perfect recipe for a Nicholas Sparks-type romance!
“The Mountain Between Us” begins at the jam-packed Denver airport, where all the flights have been postponed or canceled due to storm activity.
Winslet’s Alex, a plucky and somewhat nosy and slightly annoying photojournalist, is desperate to get home because she’s getting married tomorrow.
Elba’s Ben, a neurosurgeon, has to get to Baltimore because he’s scheduled to perform surgery on a 10-year-old boy in the morning.
Seems reasonable to ask why Alex is so far from home on the day before her wedding. (Yeah, yeah, work. Come on.) Or for that matter, why Ben isn’t already in Baltimore, getting a good night’s sleep before operating on a kid the next morning.
But there they are.
Alex overhears Ben’s desperate pleas to find a flight, so she approaches him with a proposition: They’ll split the cost of chartering a plane to a regional airport, where they can find connecting flights to their respective destinations.
Suffice to say that turns out to be a really bad idea. After a well-filmed and suitably harrowing plane crash sequence that kills off the pilot (but leaves his Lab retriever intact, because you DO NOT KILL THE DOG in movies such as this), Ben and Alex awake deep in the mountains, with her leg shattered and his torso bloody and bruised. (Only a few artfully painted scratches mar their handsome movie star faces.)
The beacon in the tail of the crumped Cessna is broken. The food supply is extremely limited. They’ll be able to survive for a few weeks on water — there’s plenty of snow and ice around to keep that supply going — but unless they find a path to civilization, they’re doomed.
Off they go! How about this way? What about that way? How about winging it? Yikes.
For a skilled and sophisticated photojournalist, Alex often comes across as whiny and naïve. (When Ben talks about how he loves working with the brain because the brain controls everything, from thoughts to emotions, Alex says, “But what about the heart?” “The heart is just a muscle,” grumbles Ben, as if talking to a 12-year-old.)
Alex believes in taking increasingly reckless chances because after all, they’re probably going to die anyway. Ben is a humorless stiff who insists they should formulate a plan and stick with it, no matter what. Now is not the time to improvise!
So they butt heads and make up, butt heads and reconcile, butt heads and REALLY reconcile. At one point you almost start rooting for the elements to win out, just so these two would just shut up.
“The Mountain Between Us” actually goes downhill in the scenes that take place in the relative comfort of the civilized world. (I’m not saying they wind up rescued. Maybe I’m talking about flashbacks, or scenes not involving the two main characters. Not telling.) Dermot Mulroney is saddled with the thankless role of Alex’s wet blanket of a fiancé, Mark. We don’t see any reason why Mark and Alex would have been engaged in the first place.
Or any reason why the viewer should be engaged with this nonsense from the outset.
20th Century Fox presents a film directed by Hany Abu-Asad and written by Chris Weitz and J. Mills Goodloe, based on the book by Charles Martin. Rated PG-13 (for a scene of sexuality, peril, injury images, and brief strong language). Running time: 101 minutes. Opens Friday at local theaters.