December 3, 2002

Extremely irresponsible Ops

Extreme Ops

Directed by Christian Duguay

Paramount Pictures, 90 Minutes

You have to go in expecting movies like this to be nonsense-filled and silly; they're built that way on purpose by people who want to impress an audience that appreciates it. The PG-13 rating gives that much away. I'm still tempted to write a review which details how embarrassingly immature and sensationalistic Extreme Ops really was, but I expect that the readers of these august pages inferred that much from the title.

For good measure, though, here's the plot synopsis as it appears on the screening invitation: "A group of the world's top daredevil extreme skiers and snowboarders gather together for an amazing [amazing?] film shoot. But when the crew accidentally films a murderous war criminal who has been hiding in the mountains, they find themselves skiing for their lives as they try to escape him."

And the movie's tagline is "Fear is a trigger." At first, it sounds like it means something. But I really couldn't begin to explain it. If you know what "Fear is a trigger" means, please explain it to me.

Obviously, director Christian Duguay wanted to drum up support from the extreme-sports audience that so resoundingly stamped its approval on XXX. In a strictly economic sense, maybe this is a good idea. But the extreme culture, at least as Extreme Ops presents it, is both absurd and astoundingly juvenile.

Apparently, the extreme-sports culture comprises youth who are phenomenally athletic (this is obviously true), musically inclined (probably not true; clearly a cultural stereotype), endearingly stupid (borderline incoherent, but possibly true), and steely-eyed in the face of extraordinary danger (true where mountains are concerned, but likely false where bloodthirsty terrorists are concerned). In a moment that probably sums up the movie's understanding of the world, Silo, an extreme snowboarder played by Joe Absolom, learns that he has just set foot in Austria and quips, in an affected accent:

"Put some more shrimps on the barbie." It is apparent, first, that Silo has confused Austria with Australia (what a charming faux pas!), and, second, that Silo is cooler for having made this mistake. Chloe, the un-cool Olympic skier several years his senior, corrects him. She will spend the remainder of the movie trying to gain acceptance with the misunderstood youth.

And this is the way, I think, that we are meant to understand it: extreme sportsmen are a fun-loving, sprightly sort, who just never understood why they had to be tethered to the likes of textbooks and speed limits. They are social misfits who sacrifice traditional values to follow their dreams. Sure, they're stupid, and maybe have bad judgment, but aren't these the same foibles we all accept in one another? When you get down to it, they care about the same things we do. Like peace, and running away from creepy terrorists who want to bomb war crime tribunals.

Every movie presents its own set of arguments, and the reason why movies with flagrant logistical oversights-I will return to this point later, but for now, consider the flaws of "Fear is a trigger"-the reason why movies like this are treacherous is that they argue irresponsibly. What are the motivations of the extreme-sports heroes? We don't know. Do they have political agendas? We don't know. If there really is something to be said for extreme snowboarders, as a breed, no one can draw it from this movie.

Again, you say, this movie is supposed to be frivolous. People don't approach it looking for arguments, and so it is no surprise that it breaks down under scrutiny. This much is true. But look at it another way: not all movies rely on images, but this one does. In so doing, it sews something into the fabric of the images it borrows. Many people will walk away thinking that in the end snowboarding and avalanche skiing are activities that attract thrill-seekers with a heart of gold. To accept the movie at its billing is to take another step: exploitative movie execs are trying to abuse these youths by commercializing what they do and (here's the movie's last step) selling it to undifferentiated Asian consumers. I'm serious here. One character in the movie is a Japanese businessman who speaks no English and is enthralled by everything that his savvy American counterpart puts in front of him. It is dangerous to take a movie like this at face value. Yet this movie's target audience is exactly those people who will do so. D-a-n-g-e-r-o-u-s.

A more responsibly presented movie might not be subject to these kinds of criticisms. No one blinks at John Goodman's racism in The Big Lebowski, because Goodman portrays an unreasonable war veteran whose mind is clearly gone. But this movie is bursting with irresponsibility. Various facts are never explained--for instance: a) the fact that the snowboarders don't wear hats or gloves in the multiple-thousand-foot elevations of the Alps; b) the fact that two gunshot-wounded teens apparently manage, during some off-screen turn of events, to escape the unforgiving climes of these mountains without so much as a snowboard; and c) the fact that the loving wife of a renowned war criminal changes her mind and decides to affiliate herself instead with an American film producer whose only salient characteristic is jerkiness.

Not that any of us are terribly interested in protecting the pre-teen population from these sorts of ills. What I am trying to say, I guess, is this: it's one thing for movies to suck, but the least they could do is suck inoffensively.