Chuck Koplinski: 'Mountain Between Us' marred by ending

Chuck Koplinski: 'Mountain Between Us' marred by ending

I sometimes wonder why actors and actresses choose to appear in the movies they do. I'm sure some choices are made because of the size of the paycheck they're getting, others are done in the hopes of vying for an Oscar, and still others are done to increase their brand or name recognition.

And then there are movies like "The Mountain Between Us," which falls outside of all of these categories. I can't imagine that its stars, Kate Winslet and Idris Elba, would be tempted by the shooting location of this project — Vancouver, Canada — and this isn't the sort of film that will increase their name recognition or cause their hat to be thrown in the ring for any awards.

No, I think one thing that drives movie stars is ego, the notion that they have talent enough to turn any sow's ear of a script into a silk purse of a movie, that they crave a challenge, trying to make the ridiculous seem plausible. I gave this a great deal of thought while watching "The Mountain Between Us," which should tell you just how engaging it is. Actually, I can give it the greatest of backhanded compliments I can think of by saying that it wasn't as bad as I thought it would be. Then again, neither was my colonoscopy, but that's neither here nor there.

Winslet is photographer Alex Martin, and Elba is neurosurgeon Ben Bass, and they are both stuck at a California airport, their flight having been cancelled due to inclement weather. Well, that simply won't do as she has to get to New York City for her wedding, and he has an emergency surgery to perform on a young boy. Desperate and in a hurry, they charter a private plane, and once they're in the air, the pilot (Beau Bridges) promptly has a stroke and dies. The pair survives the horrendous crash that follows — Alex with a broken leg and Ben with some bumps and bruises — and try to figure out how they will survive this ordeal.

Needless to say, they have more than a few obstacles to overcome, including but not limited to, subzero temperatures, blinding snow, mountain lions, harsh winds, a lack of food and a really, really long walk back to civilization. To their credit, the two leads and director Hany Abu-Assad are able to make the situations and the couple's solutions to them seem believable. As Man vs. Wild films go, this is one of the more plausible entries.

Of course, when trapped in stressful situations, sex is always in the offing, or so I've been told, so it comes as no surprise that Alex and Ben jump in the sack the first time an opportunity presents itself. This is all handled quite tastefully and doesn't derail the film as it could in lesser hands.

Winslet and Elba are much better than the material and succeed in elevating it above the level of a gothic romance. Neither of them phone it in, creating realistic characters in a story that skirts the edge of ridiculousness at every turn.

However, their sincerity is not reflected in the movie's ending, a crowd-pleasing climax that opts for narrative safety rather than story-telling honesty.

'The Mountain Between Us' (★★½ out of four)

Cast: Kate Winslet, Idris Elba, Beau Bridges, Dermot Mulroney and Linda Sorensen.

Directed by Hany Abu-Assad; produced by Peter Chernin, Dylan Clark, David Ready and Jenno Topping. Screenplay by Chris Weitz.

A 20th Century-Fox release. 103 minutes. Rated PG-13. (peril, injury image, brief strong language and some sexuality). At the AMC Champaign 13, AMC Danville Village Mall 6 and Savoy 16 IMAX.

Also new in theaters

"Victoria and Abdul" an entertaining, history-lite exercise (★★★ out of four). In 1887, as part of Queen Victoria's Golden Jubliee, the monarch received two Indian servants to honor the occasion. One of them was Hafiz Mohammed Abdul Karim, a 14-year-old who was the son of a hospital assistant. Over time, Victoria came to like and trust this young man, going so far as to give him the title "Munshi" ("teacher"). He served her for more than 15 years and retired to a large estate in India that the queen had secured for him.

Director Stephen Frears' adaptation of Shrabani Basu's book "Victoria and Abdu" is an intriguing, albeit safe, account of the unusual relationship that developed between the queen and her loyal servant, a history-lite exercise that is more intent on delivering cute and heart-warming moments rather than delve too far into the thorny issue of the British colonization of India and its ramifications. Frear's intent is to entertain not so much as inform.

Of course, with Judi Dench as Queen Victoria, a role she tackled once before in the similarly themed "Mrs. Brown," Frears has at his disposal a powerhouse talent in a role tailor-made for her. As soon as she appears on screen, in a grand, memorable entrance, you can't take your eyes off her. (Does anyone scowl better than Dame Judi?)

The biggest surprise is that her co-star, Ali Fazal, is able to keep pace with her. Sporting a natural charm, as well as a hugely likable role, thanks to screenwriter Lee Hall, as Abdul Karim, the Bollywood star proves that he's far more than a hunk from abroad, but has some acting chops as well, which are evident in the more quiet scenes the two share.

The film does get off to a bit of a wobbly start, as Frears cuts back and forth from Victoria's days at court and Abdul's frantic life in Agra. But once the characters are brought together in England, things settle into a nice rhythm, punctuated with clock-like precision by moments of gentle humor and obvious emotion.

As the friendship between the two develops, discord ensues throughout those assigned to look out for and advise the queen. That she relies so much on Abdul, the prime minister (Michael Gambon) and her son Bertie, the Prince of Wales (Eddie Izzard) become concerned that this outsider may be exposing her to a different perspective of things that could lead to a change in policy.

While this is touched upon, it isn't fully explored, which is the glaring fault of the screenplay. Whereas Abdul is presented as respectful and honored to be of service to the queen, his cohort, fellow Indian servant Mohammed (Adeel Akhtar) comes off as a cranky, reluctant footman. While he does express some dissenting political views where English rule is concerned, these are presented as the complaints of a curmudgeon and little more.

Be that as it may, "Victoria and Abdul" is not misleading in what it has to offer. In the trailers for the film and within the first 15 minutes, you know the sort of concoction Frears has whipped up and whether it will be to your liking.

More fluff than substance, this is a film that viewers are supposed to sit back and absorb, not analyze.

For DVR alerts, film recommendations and movie news, follow Koplinski on ­Twitter (@ckoplinski). He can be reached via email at

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