Die Hard on the Rocky Mountains! But seriously, 1993’s Cliffhanger is … Die Hard on the Rocky Mountains. And hey, I ain’t complaining about that. I’m not that far off here because the director, Renny Harlin, did Die Hard 2, which came out in 1990! (He also did 1988’s A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master, which I reviewed earlier this year.) The film, which believe it or not, I’d never seen before, stars Sylvester Stallone, as Gabe, a climber and rescue ranger (which is hilarious casting because Stallone is actually afraid of heights), and John Lithgow (who, funny story, when I read the Amazon Prime description, I read his name as Dolph Lundgren for some crazy reason) as Eric Qualen, the villain and former British intelligence, who is trying to secure $100 million from the United States Treasury.
Fun fact, if you were wondering: This marks the ninth Stallone film I’ve watched in the last month, between five Rambo films, three Expendables films, and now this one. Stallone is the man! And what works here is that Stallone still looks as buff as ever, but it’s fun when the buff guy pretends to play a guy who isn’t used to fighting the bad guys. He’s the Every Man instead. He’s not trying to be Rambo here. He outdoes the villains more so because of his mountain climbing ability than anything.
Basically, in an impossible scheme where Richard Travers, as Rex Linn, a U.S. Treasury agent, helps Qualen to steal the $100 million, the morons then lose it over the Rockies. Thus, the issue comes to a head with Gabe, and the other two rescue rangers, Hal (played by Michael Rooker) and Jessie (played by Janine Turner).
The opening scene sets the stage nicely, where Hal and his girlfriend, Sarah (played by Michelle Joyner), are stuck one of the peaks. Gabe comes to save them, but Sarah’s equipment malfunctions mid-transfer to the rescue helicopter. Gabe holds onto her by one hand while dangling from the rope, but she slips and falls to her death. It was a heck of a scene! I figured some sort of equipment malfunction would happen, but I didn’t expect Sarah to actually plunge to her dang death. That was intense and shocking. Which is both a compliment of the film and one of its detriments, as nothing quite lives up to that opening scene in intensity and acrophobia vibes until at least the climaxing scene when Gabe and Qualen duke it out on a helicopter dangling off a rock façade. That made the film darker than I was expecting because Gabe is questioning himself and Hal hates him.
I also have to note, Jessie might be the most useless character in an action film I can recall. In fact, she’s worse than useless. In almost every scene she’s in, she’s both a moron, to be blunt, and actively causes headaches for the other characters. It’s frustrating to watch, if you can’t tell! For instance, at the end, she’s excitedly waving to who she thinks is Frank (played by Ralph Waite), a fellow ranger pilot, and instead, it’s Qualen, and he takes her hostage. Gah! That said, I love that actor; years later, Waite would play Gibbs’ dad on the show NCIS.
One of the best action scenes of the film aside from the beginning is when Gabe and one of Qualen’s henchman are tumbling down a snowy slope punching and grappling with each other until Gabe is able to stop himself from careening over the slope’s edge, but the henchman keeps on going, plunging into the darkness. That was a great visual from beginning to end. One of the coolest shot action scenes I can recall.
Overall, if you want some classic Stallone, that classic late 1980s, early 1990s action vibe, then it’s hard to beat this one for a good time. It’s all a little cheesy with action one-liners and over-the-top villains, and is probably 25 minutes too long, but it’s hard to not have a good time with those mountain landscapes and death-defying stunts. And did I mention Stallone?