Where to begin with Extreme Ops? The sad, sorry, downward trajectory of Devon Sawa’s so-called career? The pathetic attempt to insert what can only charitably referred to as plot in what is essentially one long commercial for winter-sports gear? That despite shooting half the movie on handheld digital video cameras, it still cost more than $40 million? That the emotional climax glides in on the back of the most brilliant line of dialogue ever recorded, “I can do anything if I put my mind to it”?
Let’s start with the story basics. Apparently screenwriter Michael Zaidan was handed a list of extreme-sports companies and told to construct a movie that involved as many cash-cow, tie-in athletic endeavors as he could handle. It’s a shame that he was unable to shoehorn in ice fishing between the downhill skiing, telemark skiing, snowboarding, skydiving, parachuting, base jumping, white-water rafting, kayaking, fleeing from vicious attack dogs, biking and skateboarding, because there’s really nothing more exciting than watching somebody pull up a nice big trout from a frozen lake. Just the thought of expanding the Extreme Ops audience target to include ice fishermen gives me the shivers.
In between all of this adrenaline action, commercial director Ian (Rufus Sewell) is working on an advertisement that includes footage of skiers and snowboarders outracing an avalanche. He decides that there is no better location to shoot such an ad than the Alps. So he and his crew of ragtag extremists, along with a whiny downhill ski champ named Chloe (Bridgette Wilson), whose precious gold medal comes from the World Games — which I thought were part of a computer game I played in third grade — and Ian’s smarmy business partner (Rupert Graves) hightail it to Austria. After many a snowboarding interlude, the group sets up camp at a half-completed resort at the top of a mountain, which is being built by a group of depressed-looking Slavic types.
Apparently this humdinger of a setup was not enough for director Christian Duguay (The Art of War), as this particular Alp is near the border of the former Yugoslavia. Ian and company are not alone in the eerie, metal beam-encrusted winter wonderland. Up above, in an area that is a not-very-secret hideout, a Serbian war criminal is chilling out while on the lam. He is very mean, and likes to growl and shoot people.
His name? Slobodan Pavle.
The sad thing is that the Extreme Ops audience probably has no idea of the criminally idiotic comedy inherent in moviemakers who voluntarily name their villains after Slobodan Milosevic. What a waste of a ridiculous creative decision.
The extremists spend most of the movie intercutting adventure on the high slopes with daring escapes from bloodthirsty Slobodan. Ian’s trusty cameraman is played by Sawa, who was once the darling of Tiger Beat magazine, following a role as the real-life title ghost in 1995’s Casper. After a brief burst of teen-movie leading-man attempts (Final Destination, Idle Hands) — his best work was as Stan in the Eminem video of the same name — Sawa seems to be settling down into his natural position as a boring sidekick. As for Sewell, who once seemed poised for stardom after the wrenching mindbender Dark City, there isn’t really anything to say. Everybody in Extreme Ops is equally dreadful.
As for the movie’s tagline — “Fear is a trigger” — all that can be said is: Huh? That’s a pretty sketchy slogan, unless the ad guys mean that if I had a gun with me in the theater, I probably would have offed myself for fear that Extreme Ops would have some Medusa-like effect on me should I watch it all the way through to the end, turning me to stone.
Being frozen for all time is actually the only way I could really live with myself for getting some ghoulish enjoyment out of Extreme Ops, and not just when Sawa jumps in a mountainside hot tub and reveals that he now sports love handles. The tricks the athletes turn, captured cheaply on Digicam, are pretty entertaining if you accept that there is absolutely nothing redeeming about the movie except that it’s less expensive to buy a movie ticket than the latest “Transworld Snowboarding” DVD — only slightly less expensive, though. It’s probably best to save your money and wait for 2 p.m. on TBS on a Saturday sometime in 2003, when Extreme Ops will no doubt provide a welcome genre shift from the John Hughes and Jean-Claude van Damme canons.
Erin Podolsky writes about film for Metro Times. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.