In K2, a couple of yuppie-daredevil types join an expedition to climb K2, the most treacherous mountain in the world. (Though not quite as tall as Everest, it’s craggier, with far steeper slopes.) Whatever limitations the movie has as drama, there’s no doubt that it puts us right up there on that mountain. The dry arctic gusts, the snowy crevasses that seem to open up out of nowhere, the looming cliffs of ice that have to be scaled with an ax, inch by painstaking inch — it’s not long before our whole spatial orientation shifts from the horizontal to the vertical. The climbing scenes are accompanied by a trashy-mystical rock score that sounds like a rip-off of Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon; it’s cornball stuff, but it works. If, like me, you can get a little uneasy during a barbecue on a second-floor balcony, K2 will leave you with a fresh appreciation of mountain climbing in all its fearless, obsessive, be-all-that-you-can-be glory.
If only it were a better movie. Michael Biehn, from The Terminator, plays Taylor, a hotshot district attorney whose ruthless, flashy style — he’s a womanizer and drives a silver Porsche — is mirrored by his nervy attitude on the slopes. His buddy, Harold (Matt Craven), or H for short, is the conservative one, a long-faced, curly-haired physics professor with a wife and baby son.
The two actors are appealing; Biehn’s slightly anonymous, beach-boy macho bounces nicely off of Craven’s owlish charm. Yet there’s no getting around the fact that they’re playing cliches. The script, which has been completely rewritten from Patrick Meyers’ celebrated stage play, is such a shoddy, threadbare piece of work that the old-fashioned tensions the story is built around never come to much. If K2 is about anything, it’s the way that sudden, life-or-death tactical decisions in mountaineering can overlap with matters of ego. That’s a great theme for an action movie, but since there’s almost nothing to the characters aside from their primal desire to climb mountains, the theme never ignites. Still, whatever its failings, there are moments when ”K2” plugs you into the crazy, vertiginous thrill of walking right off this world.