Cliffhanger (1993) Review

With Die Hard being such a perfect action movie it obviously had its imitators. This brought some decent rip-offs, like “Die Hard on a Plane” (Air Force One), some poorer movies like “Die Hard on a Ship” (Under Siege) and of course some that fit snugly in the middle like “Die Hard on a Mountain.” Which brings us to Cliffhanger.

Cliffhanger is the sort of high-concept, ridiculous movie which doesn’t get made anymore. It doesn’t have the insane silliness of any of the “Fast Franchise” but does stretch credibility ridiculously thin while taking itself far too seriously considering its basic plot. Luckily, it has three major positives; Sylvester Stallone, Michael Rooker and John Lithgow.

Stallone is peak action hero Sylvester at this point. The muscles are out, the snarl is primed and he is one-lining and then dispatching bad guys as well as he ever has. To his credit, there is plenty of decent action to showcase the talents that made him a household name. From helicopter explosions, avalanches and fights atop perilous clifftops.

His rival, set-up with a now iconic opening sequence that was bettered in Ace Ventura: When Nature Calls, is Michael Rooker. Him and Stallone’s Gabe have a history which makes them having to reluctantly work together to fight the villain and his goons just a little more interesting. Rooker is solid here, although struggles occasionally against a Stallone that is as beefed-up as he is in this movie.

Which does make casting John Lithgow as the villain a curious choice. He is a classic 90s villain, cast much more for the sneer and cold British dastardliness rather than being a physical threat to Stallone at all. He gets some decent lines and plays the role well enough that you want to see him get his comeuppance. It just struggles to convince when Lithgow and Stallone are going head-to-head at the explosive finale.

The explosive finale, and so much more of the film, means this does feel a 90s action throwback, but not always in a good way. The overall plot is decent, as terrorists use the heroic trackers to find stolen cash lost in the mountains, but there are so many plot holes and leaps in logic that you sometimes struggle to suspend your disbelief.

It also doesn’t help that what used to pass as decent writing in the 90s is now far below the expected standard. Some scenes are poorly written, with cheesy or over-dramatic dialogue while others are very poorly acted, never convincing or forcing the drama.

It hasn’t aged well. Some of the effects are slightly dodgy and this sort of action hero doesn’t feel like they have a place in the 21st Century (unless they are wearing a cape of course). It is a lot of fun though and as a bit of 90s action nostalgia, its stands-up (unless the film is called Die Hard).

Overall, considering this is a rip-off of Die Hard but on a mountain, Cliffhanger holds its own. It has all the best bits of a 90s actioner, from a top star in Stallone, some cool explosive sequence and a villain worth seeing get beaten. It also has the worst bits too, from cheesy dialogue, poor acting and some massive plot holes. All good fun though and some great nostalgia for a time when action movies were a little simpler and a little sillier.

Rating – 3.5

(1 – Awful, 2 – Average, 3 – Good, 4 – Great, 5! – Must See)

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