In The Mountain Between Us, an adaptation of a romance novel by Charles Martin, a charter plane crash strands a risk-taking American photographer (Kate Winslet) and a prickly English surgeon (Idris Elba) on a solemnly scenic snowy mountainside in the Rockies. Danger, the stock-in-trade of survival stories, ends up a casualty as the film’s landscape shots and pretensions skirmish a pointless war of attrition against its looming sappiness. The result is a “Myers-Briggs vs. nature” scenario, with a couple of one-note personality-test types roughing it in the crumpled fuselage of a Cessna as they fight cold, starvation, and a badly animated mountain lion. They were strangers trying to make the same plane out of Denver after their connecting flight in a regional airport was canceled: She was supposed to get married the next day; he was grumbling about a patient with a brain tumor. “But doctor,” she says, “what about the heart?”
The pilot’s golden retriever survived the crash, too, contributing to the impression that this is just a cosmically cruel blind date. When you’re trying to survive in the Rocky Mountains in the dead of winter, you can always talk about the weather. Winslet’s Alex and Elba’s Dr. Ben have zero romantic chemistry, though it’s not like the two seasoned actors are working with stellar material; it’s likely that Elba’s baritone has never had to elevate a line worse than “Candy Crush. I need to occupy my amygdala.” (This is about as relatable as it gets for the secretive and peevish Dr. Ben, who otherwise comes across like the prime suspect on a murder-of-the-week cop show.) The script, by Chris Weitz (About A Boy) and the schmaltz specialist J. Mills Goodloe (The Age Of Adaline, The Best Of Me, Everything, Everything), actually tones down the howling outrageousness of Martin’s novel, which seems to miss the point. But, structurally, it’s the same junk. Problems pop out of nowhere and resolve themselves, while torturous motivations attempt to explain why characters would withhold basic information from one another for weeks or how two complete strangers would get on a prop plane without bothering to tell anyone else.
But the only real pertinent question is when and where these two high-altitude castaways are fated to fuck. As this issue clumsily tries to pose itself as some kind of pseudo-metaphysical query, Palestinian director Hany Abu-Assad (Paradise Now, The Idol) swats in the approximate direction of a film style. There’s a lot of meaninglessly impressive empty white space in the mountainscapes, shot largely on location in the Canadian Rockies—enough to qualify the purest and most tolerable parts of the film as a kind of modern-day Hollywood answer to those classic Arnold Fanck mountaineering movies that Nazis used to get off on. Remove the nonsensical characterizations and The Mountain Between Us becomes a cornball paean to rock formations and (mostly male) beauty. After weeks in the icy wilderness, the worst that can be said about Dr. Ben’s and Alex’s looks is that they could both use some Chapstick.