Directed by: John Schmidt
Starring: Jason George, Ned Vaughn, Dabney Coleman, Todd Bridges
A clumsy -- if sincere -- attempt to transfer the goals of the Billy Graham Evangelical Crusade to the movies, The Climb comes across as a mishmash of awkward symbolism, simplistic theology, lukewarm acting and pat situation on top of pat situation that ultimately plays like a movie of the week. The concept of mountain climbing as a kind of symbolic spiritual growth is hardly unique to this film. In fact, it strangely recalls a peculiar offshoot of German cinema in the 1920s, with a spate of mountain-climbing movies (some of which starred filmmaker/documentarian Leni Riefenstahl). Mountains, of course, have always tended to have a kind of spiritual quality and it's not surprising to see them evoked in a film of this type. The problem is that the metaphor doesn't really come across, since the screenwriters don't connect the literal climb with the spiritual climb of the characters and the mountains in the film never really go beyond being nicely scenic. The story is fairly typical for this type of drama: Hotshot atheist mountaineer Derrick (Jason George) finds himself unwillingly teamed up with level-headed Christian climber Michael (Ned Vaughn). Considering the source of the film, it's hardly shocking to learn that Derrick will see the error of his ways before the film's end. In all fairness, however, it must be noted that the film does have the wit to occasionally allow Derrick to have some qualities of character and judgment -- even if these are attributed to God working in mysterious ways. The inherent problem in a film like this is that it really doesn't understand how to speak to the uninitiated. Do the filmmakers honestly believe that a tepid drama about a man sacrificing himself for someone else is going to make a significant impact by including a bit of scripture and a copy of Billy Graham's book, Day by Day? Or do they believe that by claiming not to preach -- instead the Ned Vaughn character only "speaks his mind" -- and then preaching anyway, they've changed things? After all, a sermon by any other name ... etc. As a result, it's the sort of movie that will appeal mostly to those already converted to the cause -- or what is known as preaching to the choir. I could name secular films from any era -- 1932's Shanghai Express and 1979's The Ninth Configuration come to mind -- that make far more persuasive cases for spiritual regeneration than this does. Thematic concerns to one side, The Climb just isn't very good filmmaking. It's fairly professional, but seems totally bereft of any originality of approach. The mountain climbing footage is OK, but generally unexciting and, unless you're really into the sport, ultimately tedious. The drama is lightweight and would play better on the Lifetime Network. And the theology isn't addressed in sufficient depth to be effective.