Aspen Extreme (1993)

Review by Carole Gordon

DVD available from | |

Lift off!Paul Gross invariably groans at the mention of this Disney film. Quoted in Ski Canada Magazine (December 1999), he said:

"It was never going to be a brilliant film, but it was on target to be a movie about friendship, fairly low-key. Not something about Aspen, money and chicks. ... There were ten cuts of that film before they ended up with the one they got. Each time they took a little more off the human side ..."

Indeed, the characters appear without exception as stereotypes - the good-looking, athletic TJ; goofy but good-hearted Dexter; rich-bitch Bryce; wholesome Robyn. The plot is minimal, the intention confused, the result muddled. There is no doubt that, had the director (Patrick Hasburgh, himself a former ski instructor who also wrote the screenplay) concentrated more on the central dynamic of the relationship between TJ and Dexter, and how their involvement with the ski-school, Bryce and Robyn, affected their friendship, the resultant film would have had more emotional depth. Instead, he seems to have aimed at least partly for social commentary on the vacuous lives of the rich - a worthy ideal, but unfortunately squandered. Nevertheless, it is still an enjoyable movie - albeit on a fairly shallow level - and the skiing scenes are thrilling (even for a non-skier!).

The plot, such as it is? TJ (Paul Gross) and Dexter (Peter Berg), manual workers in Detroit, move from their dead-end jobs to work as ski instructors in Aspen, working for Karl (Trevor Eve - star of the British private detective drama Shoestring in the 1980s and here sporting an entirely unconvincing German accent). TJ becomes Bryce's latest fling after she ditches Ernst, another ski instructor (Martin Kemp, formerly of Spandau Ballet and British soap Eastenders), survives an off-piste accident and becomes involved with Robyn (Teri Polo, later to be seen in the due South episode They Eat Horses, Don't They?). When Dexter is suspended from the ski school, he falls in with a bad crowd and becomes a drug addict (all in the space of two weeks). Rescued from his addiction by Robyn, he is killed in an avalanche while practising for an extreme skiing contest with TJ.

TJ and BryceIt is at this point that the film improves and, paradoxically, simultaneously loses its focus, finally giving up any pretension to social comment. At last Paul is given something more to do than simply look wonderful in ski gear, and there are some beautifully acted scenes as TJ's relationship with Bryce finally breaks down and he faces his guilt over Dexter's death (landing Ernst a solid punch in the process). But it was as if Dexter, being the not-so-good-looking-one, had to die to ensure that Aspen continued to be inhabited only by the "beautiful people", the writer at this point seeming to collude with those he earlier sought to criticise for their vacuous lives.

The Radio Times TV listing magazine commented:

"It's rather apt that this is a movie about skiing because it really is downhill all the way."

Not quite; it's certainly worth watching - just as long as the viewer doesn't expect too much.