There are films that rely on the screen presence of charismatic leads – and then there’s the sort of cinematic slush piles of chick-flick torture porn that no amount of star power can keep from becoming an endurance test. You get one guess which category the high-altitude soap opera The Mountain Between Us falls into. Why Kate Winslet, Idris Elba and skilled Dutch-Palestinian director Hany Abu-Assad (Paradise Now, Omar) found themselves attracted to the tearjerking twaddle of Charles Martin’s bestseller is anyone’s guess. But none of them have not found a way to crawl out from under the novel’s avalanche of clichés. In fact, the filmmaker seems to be hoping that cinematographer Mandy Walker’s gift for shooting gorgeous scenery (we’re referring to Winslet and Elba as well as the Utah wilderness) will distract us from a plot that continually finds new ways to travel the road to WTF-just-happened?
Winslet plays Alex Martin, a no-nonsense photojournalist who needs to get out of the Rockies and head east for her wedding the next day. Elba is Dr. Ben Bass, a no-nonsense Brit neurosurgeon who needs to get to an operating room in Baltimore to save a child. What’s stopping them? Spoiler: It’s a snowstorm. So these strangers decide to charter a private plane, piloted by Beau Bridges and his cute navigator dog. The canine proves healthier than his owner.
And before you can say Welcome to Screenwriting 101, the plane crashes. Alex, Ben and the dog (who doesn’t root for a pup?) must try to survive the elements. J. Mills Goodloe and Chris Weitz, who adapted this swill for the screen, trot out one obstacle after the other. There’s ice for someone to fall through and a wild cougar to shoot a flare gun at. Her leg is broken; his side is bleeding. He wants to wait for help; she refuses to sit there and die. Alex and Ben scream hateful things at each other which, of course, is a huge turn-on. They even find an abandoned cabin, mostly so the film can arrange for a sex scene in front of a roaring fire.
And just when you think this movie cannot get more unendurable… it does. And then some. You can see every twist telegraphed from miles away even in a driving blizzard. The Mountain Between Us is epic all right – an epic waste of talent and your time.