The Rocky Rock Jock
Having tried to lay "Rocky" to rest with the less than spectacular "Rocky V" and tried his hand at a couple of comedies, muscle man Sylvester Stallone returned to form in 1993 with what would be the start of a run of what can only be called muscle movies with "Cliffhanger". As it was to become apparent "Cliffhanger" and the ensuing movies which included "Demolition Man" and "Daylight" were movies which traded purely on Stallone as the action man, the tough talking, big balled hero and as such were slim on tangible story, or at least a storyline which was more important than Stallone's bulging biceps.
8 months after a mountain rescue went fatally wrong mountain rescuer Gabe Walker (Sylvester Stallone - Assassins) returns to the mountains in the hope of convincing his one time girlfriend to leave. When an emergency call comes in from high up in the mountains Gabe decides to help with the rescue bringing him face to face with his old friend Hal (Michael Rooker - The 6th Day), part of the reason why he left. But the rescue becomes more than they both expected when they discover they have been duped by a gang of criminals who having tried to rob a treasury plane in mid air, crashed on the mountain and plan to use Gabe to track down the cases of money that are now scattered across the rocks.
Strangely I quite like the idea behind "Cliffhanger" a mountain rescuer pitting his wits against some criminals who have found themselves not only stuck high up in the mountains but also in need of his services to get their money. It has elements which could have worked to make a sort of clever action movie full of tension and drama. But instead it has to be said that "Cliffhanger" is as dumb, over the top and contrived as they come with such a huge amount of unbelievability about it that at times it's laughable. Moments where it tries to develop the storyline are wasted because the only thing that director Renny Harlin is interested in is deliver high octane, adrenalin packed action scenes which yes are entertaining but so far fetched as well.
As such it has to be said that "Cliffhanger" is a movie which will almost wow you with its action and visual presence. The opening scenes with Stallone's character Gabe Walker hanging from a rock face by his finger tips packs a punch as do many of the scenes which again feature Stallone climbing sheer rock faces as he grimaces and shows his rippling muscles through an obscenely tight t-shirt. But then these scenes are all so over the top that they end up being cheesy and laughable at the same time. Which is not helped by the serious amount of corny dialogue which every single character has to utter that starts with Helicopter rescuer Frank, Ralph Waite he of "The Waltons" fame, calling Gabe "Rock Jock".
Aside from "Cliffhanger" focussing mainly on Stallone as an action hero we do get some fun elements, the in air robbery of a treasury jet maybe over the top but it is entertaining to watch as are the various fight scenes which feature Leon, as a baddie called Kynette. But even I question the point of including two of the dumbest and pointless characters ever in the adrenalin junkies who look and sound more like rejects from a "Bill & Ted" movie than serious thrill seekers.
But "Cliffhanger" is first and fore mostly a Sylvester Stallone movie and as such the majority of the movie focuses on him grimacing, sweating and allowing his bulging muscles to almost rip out from beneath his tight t-shirt. Any scene which requires Stallone to actually do any acting which doesn't require his physique feels weak and worthless which is a shame as although Stallone is no Olivier he is better than this. He's not helped by the completely dumb dialogue which sounds totally corny when he tries to deliver it with emotion, even more when he is saying it for laughs.
Other than Stallone, well John Lithgow does a reasonable job of playing a menacing baddie called Qualen and Michael Rooker at least tries to not let Stallone take centre stage in every scene as fellow mountain rescuer Hal Tucker. But the rest of the cast including Leon, Ralph Waite, Janine Turner and Craig Fairbrass who plays a precursor to Vinnie Jones British bad guy are all pretty much ignored in favour of Stallone.
What this all boils down to is that "Cliffhanger" is your grade A early 90's Sylvester Stallone movie which was all about the man with the muscles rather than anything else. It's not terrible and watched purely for all the action and rock climbing scenes will give you some entertainment. But it is as far fetched as they come with a storyline which ends up being less important the longer the movie goes on.