THE FILM 3/5
“The plane belongs to us now.”
A headstrong FBI agent (Denise Richards) is offered millions to help a thief escape from a hijacked airplane. When she finds out that his ex-partners (Greer Grammer, Chuck Liddell, and Dolph Lundgren) are leading the deadly operation, she must choose sides and do whatever it takes to keep the plane from going down.
Lionsgate has created an algorithm that has helped propel their Lionsgate and Lionsgate Premiere home releases to success: we can call it “the tired action star disbursement algorithm.” Just ask Bruce Willis. He’s been making more of a living in the home video market via Lionsgate than with properly released mainstream films for theaters. “The tired action star disbursement algorithm” works like this: producers obtain a recognizable action star with a loyal fan base for their film, contracts him for about 10-15 minutes of screen time, but then disburses that screen time throughout the film from beginning to end, offering the illusion that said actor has a leading or prominent role (usually as the villain). Plastering said actor’s face across all marketing aspects for said film is also a given, as – in this case – action film fans are far more likely to rent something which features the face of Dolph Lundgren rather than Denise Richards.
Enter Altitude – the latest to use this frustrating algorithm.
Despite being used prominently in the trailer and marketing art, Dolph is on screen for roughly ten to fifteen minutes, most of which is spent in the cockpit flying the plane. If you were hoping for multiple scenes between himself and Denise Richards, or even Chuck Liddell, well, sorry. When he is on screen, there’s a noticeable uptick in the spark that Altitude is barely capable of maintaining on its own. There’s a reason why Lundgren continues to act three decades after he became famous, and mostly in films no mainstream audiences ever see — it’s because he’s likable and boasts a good screen presence, and it’s what keeps his fans coming back…even if he does make a lot of garbage. (Of course, there are notable exceptions.)
To be fair, Altitude isn’t the worst film Dolph has made in the last five, ten, even twenty years. Despite his enduring worship thanks to his role in Rocky IV as Ivan Drago, the tall and high-IQed Swede was able to forge a prolific career in the action genre, managing to make one good (or entertaining) film for about every fifteen bad ones. On the Lundgren Ladder, Altitude ranks slightly less than mid-level output, far better than the atrocious Don’t Kill It or Kindergarten Cop 2, but not as good as the heavy-handed yet propulsive Skin Trade.
Let’s just say that Dolph’s lack of screen time isn’t Altitude’s only problem.
I’ve long maintained that quality and confident storytelling can overcome poor special and visual effects. But I’ve also long maintained that if you know from the outset your budget won’t allow you to properly depict certain things, then maybe don’t do it. Write them out of the script; find new ways to make your point. The CGI in Attitude is just terrible – some of the worst you could have seen even in 1999. Every establishing shot of the plane high in the sky above the clouds is hysterical. And from there it just gets worse.
Another befuddling aspect to Altitude – considering it features Lundgren and UFC Fighter Chuck Liddell, and also considering that it’s an action film – is how poorly choreographed and edited the action scenes are. For the last decade, there’s been an influx of UFC-style fighting techniques used in the DTV action film market, with the likes of Scott Adkins, Michael Jai White, and more – people who genuinely possess these skills in real life – showing off their skills on camera. The presence of Liddell would seemingly allude to Altitude taking this same approach. It doesn’t. If at anytime anyone can decipher just what is happening during any fight scene starring any of the actors, I’d be impressed. Altitude first hired Dolph and then barely used him; then it hired Chuck Liddell, a UFC fighter, and then did everything to obscure his skills. This is like hiring Wolfgang Puck to pick up your order from The OK Wok.
Despite all these issues, it can still be said that Altitude is never boring. And that may sound like idle praise, but if you’re as devout a Dolph fan as I am and have seen a good majority of his DTV career, you know “not boring” is actually kind of a rarity for him. The film’s opening is fun, clever, and plays around with genre expectations, even if it does promise something new and different that it can’t see through to the end. And there are small moments that perhaps reflect the script’s original intent, but which were quickly jettisoned in favor of having the bad girl with the obvious wig take off her obvious wig so the audience could think Altitude was, like, super cunning.
Denise Richards looks exhausted, but it’s evident that she is actually really committed to her role, throwing in a handful of subtle nuances in an effort to ground the absurd concept of the plot. She’s never been a strong performer – the reason anyone knows her name is because of that one time she took off her top in a pool and kissed Neve Campbell – but there are no signs of her phoning in her role anywhere during Altitude. She might not be convincing all the time, but she’s trying.
I’m not sure anyone else was.
THE PICTURE 4/5
Altitude presents the kind of video image that’s to be expected from DTV. With Altitude obviously being a digital production, it’s certainly above average and offers good stability, clarity, and detail. Despite being confined to the interior of an airplane for most of its run, Altitude manages to offer up an interesting color scheme as well, falling black on blues and greens. Dolph looks quite fetching in his handsome man suit, I must say.
THE SOUND 4/5
Same goes for the audio presentation. Things eventually get loud in Altitude, as should be expected from any film with even a tertiary connection to Dolph Lundgren. Dialogue presents well, as does the musical score; there are no areas of concern worth mentioning.
THE SUPPLEMENTS 0/5
¯\_(ツ)_/¯ pretty much sums up Altitude, as it’s very middle-of-the-road entertainment. Without being able to fully classify this as a Dolph offering, it’s hard to know which kind of audience would be down for this latest flick of airline hijackery. Again, it’s not the worst thing you will ever see (some of those can probably be found right in Dolph’s filmography), but I can guarantee that you’ve seen much better — with Dolph and certainly without. The Blu-ray presents to-be-expected picture and audio quality, but no special features to speak of. As someone who has quite a bit of Dolph at home on the ol’ shelf, including a handful of his DTV fodder, I can confidently say this ranks as a one-way ticket at best: you won’t be compelled to revisit.
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