THE EDGE ** 1/2
To the wilds of Alaska, aging billionaire Charles Morse (Hopkins) flies in his private, 8 million-dollar plane. With him are his much younger wife Mickey, a fashion model played by model Elle Macpherson; fashion photographer Bob (Baldwin) who fairly discreetly lusts after Mickey (they may or may not be lovers); Bob's African-American assistant Stephen (Perrineau). Bob is on an exotic shoot of Mickey, Charles just (?) comes along.
The fancily rustic lodge is run by elderly Styles played by the excellent character actor L.Q.Jones, seen in many westerns and a near-fixture of Sam Peckinpah movies. He engages tenderfoot Charles in an ironic contest on local lore --which the mogul handles handily. Aha! There's something more than just money to this fellow!
Indeed, Charles is a bookworm, someone who lives his life vicariously through books of all types, including practical ones, and from which he seems to remember everything. Bob the photographer may have cameras, but Croesus Charles has photographic memory. His is a wealth of information, from trivial-trivia to trivia-not-trivial and more...
Charles is played magnificently by Hopkins, his face hardly registering emotions, ever serious even when he ocasionally half-smiles. On the first night at the lodge, Mickey asks him to go downstairs and get her some food. He descends with a lantern, starts slicing, finds himself aware of something ominous around him. Suddenly the lights go on, all appear shouting Happy Birthday. It's a dumb, tasteless joke. Charles is presented with a pocket watch and knife.
Already the suspicion that there's something bizarre going on dawns on us. Already too, the absurdisms of the movie start crawling in, and the many whys and hows to come.
Irony and satire creep in. Fashion photography is quietly mocked for its excesses. Is it really necessary to go to such wilderness for a model to pose? Does billionairess-by-marriage Mickey need the money? I won't go into the many possible reasons for the above. Bob has artistic ambitions. Spying the portrait of an Indian he admires this great, pure "19th century" artifact, wonders who had shot it. "I did, last year" replies host Styles. So much for connoisseurship of art. So much for the one-upmanship that gives the edge. One begins to see the wry, sly humor in David Mamet's script.
The next day, Bob, shooting ridiculously costumed Mickey, is unhappy with the process as well as with his assistant having forgotten to bring shoe polish. We're inching further into the realm of the absurd, which is compounded when know-it-all Charles declares "The inside of a banana peel will shine shoes." Sounds like information from those "At Home" tips in newspapers.
Bob decides that Charles and he must find the Indian hunter of the photo and incorporate him into the shoot. They fly off in a hydroplane. As Charles and Bob chat about the effect the tycoon's wealth has on people and the effect Mickey has on Bob, out of a blue sky Charles comes up with "How are you planing to kill me?" That very moment, out of the blue sky birds collide with the craft which goes down into a lake. Charles, Bob and Stephen survive. There is an abundance of scary moments in scary mountains.
Now to something personal. I don't usually dispense advice, but I do counsel all, no matter what they do, to carry always a Swiss Army knife, a pocket flashlight and a lighter. This is the nth film to vindicate me. Charles's gift knife frees, underwater, Stephen from his jammed safety belt and will be a survival tool in other ways. The other two items are missing. Bob finds some six bookmatches. How they have remained dry is another puzzlement.
Cool, near-unflappable, fast-reacting Charles, with nary a change of expression, is obviously the man to get the trio out of their predicament. A Nobel caliber Old Boy Scout, he knows the answers: making a compass from a metal needle on a floating leaf (very possible); later, trying to fish with his gold watch-chain (ho-hum); stating you can make fire from ice by using ice as a lens (most doubtful), and so on. He has the edge over Bob. Especially when a huge, man-killing Kodiak bear starts stalking and attacking them.
What we have here is a tongue-in-cheek, Mamet-ized adventure that takes on film cliches and conventions. Three men start out together. Needless to say that they'll first go around in circles; that there has to be an accident; that the first to go is the man of color (when none available, movies go to a supporting player); that they can go without food for days; that somehow the remaining survivors make an instant, anti-bear circle of fire (but earlier, why did Bob use one of his precious matches for a smoke?). Charles and Bob ought to have been dead from cold by now, but never mind. Still keeping his edge, Charles devises a trapper's way to kill the bear. Next the companions are seen wearing (uncured!) bear-fur coats.
The point of this extravagant yarn is, of course, to throw together competitors, show their true natures, how they change and, if they survive, how their future lives and relations might be affected. The once-jaded, impersonal Charles finally does declare "I'm going to start my life all over again." Sheesh! And the two engage into would-be probing dialogues.
There's much more but it shall not be revealed. Enough to say that the finale cuts abruptly and shows us no aftermath. Before this, Mamet's black humor had worked, but only partly. This because the movie, tongue or no tongue in cheek, is overwhelmed by non-stop harrowing scenes that make it downright unpleasant. The recipe's mix of ingredients does not really take.
The sites and sights are impressive, the photography excellent, the score generic, and Bart the bear, helped by ursutronics, is properly chilling in the already chilly air.