Everything about 'Aspen' is downhill

January 25, 1993|By Stephen Hunter | Stephen Hunter,Film Critic

About three-quarters of the way through the very, very long "Aspen Extreme," I heard a little boy -- the next, great, American critic, I'm sure -- turn to his mother and say, "Mommy, is this a real movie?"

Of course, it isn't.

Besides its interminable length and its surprising lack of razzle-dazzle skiing sequences, it turns out to be a moldy retread of youth tube TV cliches: "Beverly Hills 90210 Downhill," that sort of thing. It's jammed with angst and agony and self-doubt as it takes its uniformly attractive, dreary cast through the usual temptations and triumphs.

It has an unpublishable-first-novel quality about it, too, as the central conceit is the ineffable melancholy a handsome, world-class athlete must feel. It's damned hard being a handsome, world-class athlete, as this movie explains.

Presumably a mildly autobiographical account of the life of its writer-director Patrick Hasburgh, a former ski instructor, it's the story of two working-class pals from Detroit who move to Aspen to get jobs as ski instructors. One of them just wants to ski; the other wants to ski and -- gack! -- write! The writer is the hero.

Alas, Paul Gross, who plays "T. J.," is too boringly noble for the role. He has white teeth, to begin with, and you show me a writer with white teeth and I'll show you someone who works in advertising! But he's also got one of those square, handsome, dreary faces that would make him hot in bars but makes him drearier than doughnuts in the rain on the screen. That style of screen beauty thankfully disappeared a decade or so ago.

Far more interesting is his doomed, dumb buddy Dexter, played by Peter Berg. Berg at least has some texture and I kept hoping the movie would use him for something other than comic foil. But it insists on returning to the dreadfully great-looking dullard Gross and pushing him through a number of crises, including a shot at gigoloing and rescue by a "good woman." Yes, it's that stale.

But the real disappointment is how peripheral to the story the skiing sequences are. In fact, there's no true sense of the athleticism of skiing and the dedication it must take. It never really defines "extreme skiing," which I take to be the downhill version of pairs figure skating, and never makes it look very exciting or dangerous. Getting through the movie is like downhill racing without snow.

"Aspen Extreme"

Starring Paul Gross and Peter Berg

Directed by Patrick Hasburgh

Released by Hollywood Films

Rated PG-13

**

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