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Extreme Ops (2002)

Cynthia Fuchs

At first, the girls-gone-wild moment is just about driving the supremely inept boys batty with desire.

Extreme Ops

Director: Christian Duguay
Cast: Rufus Sewell, Bridgette Wilson, Heino Ferch, Devon Sawa, Joe Absolom, Jana Pallaske, Rupert Graves, Klaus Löwitsch
MPAA rating: PG-13
Studio: Paramount Pictures
First date: 2002
US Release Date: 2002-11-27

A producer of "extreme" television commercials (the sort associated with Mountain Dew) is trying to impress a potential new client. He brags about his extreme sports crew, whom he sends leaping out of helicopters, off cliffs, and into white water. As they watch his team flail about, their kayaks dangling uncertainly from cables, the producer, whose name is Jeffrey (Rupert Graves), looks smug. He's equipped one team member with a fancy little digital camera, in order to achieve maximum effect. Jeffrey leans in and speaks conspiratorially: the camera allows you to "have the latent energy of the moment." The client looks blank. The what?

Her reaction is one of the more sensible occurrences in Extreme Ops, a high concept movie that mostly leaves out the concept part. When, safe in an office building, Jeffrey makes another pitch to the woman's boss, he can't help himself, and offers to shoot the promised "skiing in front of an avalanche" stunt for real, not digitally doctored. The boss likes that. But Jeffrey's partner, the smart-ass director Ian (Rufus Sewell), and their fearless cameraman Will (Devon Sawa, who survived Final Destination for this), resent this promise being made without consultation. So, they dangle Jeffrey off the roof of that building, Vanilla Ice-style. Jeffrey, being the whiny wuss that he is, apologizes like mad and promises to grant Ian control over future "creative" decisions, but, well, in the meantime, they head to the Austrian Alps to catch some avalanche.

But not before they assemble the rest of their motley crew. First, the noisy girl singer and thrill-seeker Kittie (Jana Pallaske), introduced on stage screaming her lyrics, then launching herself in an energetic dive, into a crowd that parts and lets her hit the ground, splat. Next, rebel sk8er-boi Silo (Joe Absolom), who arrives at the airport racing his board past astonished passengers like a punk version of O.J. back in the day.

And last, divine Chloe (Bridgette Wilson, who must have better things to do, like watching her husband play tennis). She's a world champion downhill racer, but not so adept at negotiating unknown territory and "drop-offs." Ian is appalled that she's come along to ski in an avalanche, but Jeffrey insists that they need "America's Sweetheart," because her participation ensures bankrolling. And radical boarders Kittie and Silo make fun of her (skiing straight down a hill to go a millisecond faster than someone else is "boring, lame, stupid").

The whole business versus art thing comes up a few more times, mostly as a means for Jeffrey and Ian to squabble, or Ian and Chloe to bond, or Will to imagine himself a more important character than he is. But it doesn't structure much of Christian Duguay's movie, which is plainly all about cash money. To that end, it lifts any previous movie plot-or-stunt that might get a rise out of even one viewer: swoopy chopper shots of teeny little figures skiing or boarding down vast mountainsides, tracking shots taken from alongside the skiers/boarders as they swoosh and whoosh through trees and across crevices, or speed ahead of an avalanche started by the team's infinitely patient German tech, Mark (Heino Ferch). The sheer number of these repeats is probably enough to keep you from dozing off -- and much of it is snazzy (shot by Hannes Hubach, edited by Clive Barrett and Sylvain Lebel). Still, it's a problem when the best part of your movie is the part that looks like a soda commercial.

The only drama (that is, recognizable face shots of anyone on the mountain) occurs when Chloe takes a couple of spills (included, presumably, to show that Ian was right not to want her along). First she's embarrassed ("I'm a great freakin' skier!"), and then she pouts. Prettily.

Back at the half-finished resort hotel where they're staying for free, the crew members get to know one another while checking the day's footage on their well-outfitted laptops. In further pursuit of camaraderie, the four youngsters disrobe and clamber into a makeshift hot tub (heated stones tossed into an outdoor pool) and play truth or dare. How tedious of them.

You might not guess this right off, but there is a plot point contained in this exercise, when Kittie and Chloe smooch on a dare for Will's camera. At first, the girls-gone-wild moment is just about driving the supremely inept boys batty with desire (and, who knows, maybe some of the target viewers as well). But the next day, you learn the true extent of the script's cunning, when the team runs into some very scary characters, who happen to be hiding out on the mountain too.

Unfortunately for our hapless heroes, their fellow campers are Serbian war criminals. And what are they doing on this particular mountain? It seems that head criminal Slobovan Pavle (Klaus Löwitsch) has faked his death in a plane crash into the mountain. Now he's planning his next move, with loving attention from his exotic, fingernail-painting girlfriend Yana (Liliana Komorowska, who's married to director Duguay). And he's more than a little annoyed when he hears that the commercial crew has digital footage of him (taken by Will, who actually took it because he was lusting after the girlfriend). Pavle hears about the tape (of him) and decides -- without much thought, apparently -- that the Americans are CIA.

As convoluted as all this is, it does lead back to the girls kissing in the hot tub, when Pavle's psycho son, Slavko (David Scheller) is assigned to capture the crew and get the tape they have of his dad. Being psycho, he can't just do that. He demands that the girls reenact their kiss, or else he'll shoot them dead: "Princess," he grunts, meaning Chloe, "kiss boyfriend," meaning Kittie. Horrors: not only is Slavko vaguely Eastern European, greasy-haired, and grizzle-faced, but he is also depraved. Apparently, even more so than the boys in the hot tub.

The crew narrowly escapes, but that only means that the rest of the film consists of their pursuit by Pavle in his chopper, armed with an automatic weapon. How fortuitous that they get more footage while hanging off fraying cables, leaping off cliffs, and roaring down the mountain, as well as avoiding gunfire, explosions, and another avalanche. That footage makes it all worthwhile: they succeed in their commercial enterprise, beating back the evil Serbs who would kill them or worse, squash their right to make bank.

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