Eight months ago, Gabe Walker (Sylvester Stallone) was a mountain rescuer in the Rockies brimming with confidence, thinking nothing of ascending a precarious pinnacle to save one hapless climber after another. That fateful day should have been like any other as his professional partner Hal Tucker (Michael Rooker) called in from one mountain top to ask for assistance when he hurt his leg while out to impress a new girlfriend by taking her on a climb. Gabe set up one end of the rope while Hal scooted along it to the helicopter, but when it came for the girlfriend to do the same, they didn't realise until it was too late that the equipment was not quite as safe as it should have been...
Sylvester Stallone has been in the privileged position of not only being a movie star, but a movie star whose comebacks to the top of the tree or thereabouts rivalled Gloria Swanson's in number, and might even have succeeded them. Cliffhanger was his nineties comeback, where he was coaxed away from a run of not terribly well received comedies to return to the action genre that had made his name. As it turned out, this role was precisely what his public wanted to see him in, and to marry that to some very impressive stunt work on an Italian mountain range doubling for the Rockies the recipe for success was assured.
Some might attribute that success to the advertising campaign, as the trailer was one of the greatest of the decade, featuring various action highlights cut together in quick succession to the accompaniment of dramatic opera, culminating in the caption "HANG ON!" filling the screen in huge letters. Anyone seeing that on a big enough cinema screen was immediately sold, and the film became one of Stallone's biggest hits. Of course, the experience of watching the movie couldn't possibly hope to live up to that, and there were quite a few who complained that plausibility was not one of this effort's strong points.
Indeed, they would say that plausibility wasn't a point at all, and they would be right, yet it wasn't the purpose as the title said it all as this harkened back to the derring-do of the old time serials which would always place the heroes in impossible jeopardy only to snatch them from the jaws of certain doom at the last second. So it's safe to say that if you watched Cliffhanger in the spirit it was intended, that is as pure spectacle, then you wouldn't have many complaints while it was unreeling, it's only afterwards you would be wondering why Gabe didn't freeze to death when he was up a snowy peak in a storm in nothing but jeans and a T-shirt. The answer being, naturally, that Sylvester Stallone is always invincible in material such as this.
Every hero needs a villain, and it was to have been Christopher Walken butting heads with the star, but he proved unavailable so it was up to John Lithgow to sport an English accent which will remind viewers of this nowadays of Stewie from Family Guy and fill his shoes to make with the chewing of the picturesque scenery. Lithgow plays Eric Qualen, a secret sevice man who defected to the Dark Side and now wants his three suitcases of cash that have dropped on the top of the range due to an unforeseen development - this may be simple on the face of it, but the plot takes a lot of setting up, a good half hour if not more. Thus Gabe, who is considering retirement after the opening incident, seizes the chance to redeem himself and all that manly stuff by foiling the bad guys and winning back his woman (Janine Turner from T.V.'s Northern Exposure in this instance). Cliffhanger needs the barest minimum of thought to enjoy, but don't forget that it is enjoyable, no mean feat in itself in light of its absurdities. Music by Trevor Jones.