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‘The Mountain Between Us’ more of a molehill

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There are a lot of reasons to dislike a movie. Perhaps the story doesn’t appeal to you. Maybe the performances fall flat or the visuals are uninteresting. Maybe you resent how a beloved character or franchise was treated.

But all of those reasons have decisions behind them. Whether you agree or not, the filmmakers involved have had a distinct idea with regards to what they want the film to be. That doesn’t mean it’s a GOOD film, but at least it knows what it is.

Something like “The Mountain Between Us” is something altogether different – and much worse.

See, this movie has no idea what it wants to be. It’s as if someone wrote a high-end romantic drama and couldn’t sell it, so they decided to turn the meet-cute into a plane-crash-in-the-wilderness-cute. The story swings wildly from extreme to extreme, with moments of harsh survival interspersed with tender romance and none of it makes a lick of sense.

Alex Martin (Kate Winslet, “Collateral Beauty”) is a photographer frantically making her way back from an assignment in an effort to get from Idaho to Denver in time for her wedding the next day. Ben Bass (Idris Elba, “The Dark Tower”) is a neurosurgeon returning from a conference and heading to Baltimore to perform an important procedure. When an impending storm grounds their respective flights, the two strangers find themselves thrust together by a shared need.

In an effort to solve their problem, they decide to charter a small plane from a pilot named Walter (Beau Bridges, TV’s “Bloodline”) and try to get to Denver ahead of the storm. Unfortunately, the universe has other plans for them – their plane goes down in the middle of the wilderness, leaving them miles from anything resembling civilization.

Alex has some ugly-looking damage to her leg, while Ben is largely unscathed. It’s just the two of them (and Walter’s dog, who somehow survived the crash none the worse for wear) alone on a mountain, with nothing to do but wait and hope that they will somehow be rescued. The longer they wait, the more desperate they become; Alex and Ben are forced to cling to one another so that they might somehow find a way to survive.

If there’s one thing that this movie proves, it’s that you can’t really mix grit and schmaltz. If you want to make a movie about survival against great odds, do that. If you want to make a love story about opposites attracting, fine. But you can’t do both. If you try, you get jarring tonal shifts that are really tough to get your head around – one minute, you’re bantering about the name of Dustin Hoffman’s girlfriend in “The Graduate,” the next, you’re shooting a mountain lion in the face with a flare gun.

(I know, I know – it sounds awesome when I put it like that. Trust me, it is not.)

There’s a fair amount of unintentional comedy at work here. The notion of someone walking miles and miles through feet-deep snow in rough terrain on a broken leg is ludicrous, but Kate Winslet can do it. Despite not being properly equipped for this kind of environment, they manage to stay warm and alert and functional. Despite spending weeks in the wilderness, they remain well-kempt and attractive. The list goes on and on – incongruous moments meant to evoke feeling or tension, but instead inspire only laughter.

One has to assume that both Winslet and Elba understand how ridiculous this whole thing is, but they’re professionals and mostly behave as such. However, the film’s inability to maintain a consistent tone utterly undercuts any spark or chemistry between the two of them. They’re talented, but not even they can manage to elevate this nonsense. It’s a whole lot of intense close-up conversation intercut with wide shots of them wandering through the snow. At no point is the viewer at all concerned for their well-being, because A) there’s not the slightest shred of doubt that they’re going to make it, and B) we don’t really care about them anyway.

(Note: None of this includes the dog, who is never named and so is referred to as “Walter’s dog” throughout. Walter’s dog is awesome and easily my favorite part of the movie, played by big goofy animals who basically spend the entire time expressing feelings about the awesomeness of snow. I generally avoid spoilers, but I got this one before seeing the movie and it greatly enhanced my experience: Kate Winslet does not eat the dog.)

“The Mountain Between Us” is a bad survival movie and a bad love story and is somehow even less than the meager sum of its parts. It’s just not worth the climb.

[1.5 out of 5]  

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