'Edge' is a good idea that doesn't cut it

September 26, 1997|By Ann Hornaday | Ann Hornaday,COX NEWS SERVICE

It must have looked so good on paper.

Take an action-adventure with psychological undertones set in the rugged magnificence of the Alaskan wilderness, rendered by the rapier-sharp writing of David Mamet and the assured hand of director Lee Tamahori. Add two actors with iron-clad bona fides and attach Bart the Bear (the most charismatic of his breed since Yogi), and boom: Box office and critical bouquets.

But there's many a slip between the page and the stage, to which "The Edge," starring Anthony Hopkins and Alec Baldwin, ploddingly attests.

Despite the considerable promise of its elements, which include some serious acting chops, good writing and visual sweep, this latter-day tale of deliverance falls on the sword of boredom, glibness and improbability -- not to mention a surfeit of expository foreshadowing where Bart is concerned.

"The Edge" begins with promise, as a photogenic cast of characters flies into a grand alpine lodge, where billionaire financier Charles Morse (Hopkins) looks dourly on as his supermodel wife (Elle Macpherson) pouts for hot-shot fashion photographer Bob Green (Baldwin).

The trip goes awry when Charles and Bob go on an errand to find an authentic Inuit fisherman to add some je ne sais quois to the proceedings and their plane collides with a flock of Hitchcockian birds. For the next several days, the eccentric mogul and the New York sharpie pit their combined and wildly disparate wits against the wilderness. The journey gets added piquancy from Charles' powerful suspicion that Bob would like nothing more than to kill him, steal his wife and scoop up his millions.

It's a pretty good setup, and although Hopkins initially affects an off-putting air of watery-eyed preoccupation, he gradually brings sharper focus to the contradictory and confounding Morse. One of the running jokes of "The Edge" is that the cosseted country clubber turns out to be a font of outdoorsmanship, from how to fashion a compass out of a paper clip to the shoe-shining potential of banana peels. By the time he's holding forth on the culinary uses of gunpowder, the audience understands perfectly why Bob would want to throttle him, wife or no wife.

Baldwin, on the other hand, never finds the same traction, though not for lack of talent or trying. He leans into Bob's scene-stealing lines with signature fluency (he has a way with Mamet's dialogue, having worked with the writer before in the vicious "Glengarry Glen Ross"), and he camouflages his intentions right up until the bloody end of "The Edge." But let's get real: Alec Baldwin as a street-chic fashionista. Not for a New York minute.

Still, even these missteps wouldn't have proven fatal to "The Edge" if the filmmakers had indulged in a bit more realism once the men are stranded.

Hours after surviving a brutal plane crash into frigid waters, they're hiking the Alaskan woods as if they're on an afternoon tramp; later in the film, after what has to be the quickest hide-tanning in natural history, Bob and Charles whip up animal-skin garments with Norell-of-the-North panache. (A third character, an assistant played by Harold Perrineau, is dispatched early on with a perfunctoriness as insulting as it is gratuitously gruesome.)

What could have been a respectable psychological adventure thriller devolves into little more than one photogenic piece of preposterousness after another.

(In fairness it should be noted that, in line with an adage regarding kids and animals, Bart the Bear provides a few genuine, and genuinely terrifying, moments in "The Edge"; he and trainer Doug Seus receive a well-earned place of honor in the film's credits sequence.)

Tamahori, who made such an impressive debut with his 1994 film "Once Were Warriors" only to stumble with "Mulholland Drive," deserves some acknowledgment for avoiding rich-equals-evil stereotypes, and he concludes "The Edge" on a refreshingly mature note.

But his endeavor never quite jells into the absorbing adventure tale to which he aspired. This may serve simply to remind us that one of life's simple rules holds true even for Hollywood: Some days you get the bear, some days the bear gets you.

'The Edge'

Staring Anthony Hopkins, Alec Baldwin, Bart the Bear

Directed by Lee Tamahori

Released by 20th Century Fox

Rated R (language, some gore and violence)

Sun score: **

Pub Date: 9/26/97

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