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K2 (R)

By Rita Kempley
Washington Post Staff Writer
May 01, 1992

From stage drama to sports video, "K2" makes a totally awesome, dude-like transition. In this fictional assault on the world's meanest mountain, scenery stands in for substance and the climb itself for character development.

Playwright Patrick Meyers, who shares a writing credit here, performs dramatic hara-kiri by turning his original work, produced at Arena Stage in 1982, into a snow-capped adventurers' cliche. The outcome is a numbing display of steep thrills that is about as suspenseful as John Denver getting to the bottom of a bowl of granola.

Michael Biehn and Matt Craven are the climb-every-mountaineers Taylor Brooks and Harold Jamison, yuppie buddies who bond exclusively on perilous slopes. With different approaches to getting high, they make a perfect team in sport if not in life. Taylor is an arrogant lawyer and self-satisfied womanizer who feels good about himself only if he's belittling somebody else, while Harold is mild-mannered and endearing, a happily married physics professor who cares about safe climbing.

During an Alaskan trip, Taylor and Harold meet and assist another group of climbers who are preparing for their assault on K2, a perilous peak in northern Pakistan's Karakoram range. Determined to join the expedition, Taylor persuades its aging billionaire leader (Raymond J. Barry) to take him and his partner along. Sparks fly when Taylor locks horns with that team's best climber (Luca Bercovici) and his Japanese partner (Hiroshi Fujioka). The group, with grousing Balti porters carrying all the equipment, proceeds through snow and ice till it nears the summit of the mountain. Abandoned by their porters, the climbers must decide whether to continue.

Produced by local filmmakers Hal and Marilyn Weiner, "K2" is directed by Franc Roddam of "Quadrophenia" and "The Bride." They've spent avalanches of money and attended to the details to dazzling effect, but theirs is a hollow representation of what is alleged to be a spiritual experience. There's a lot of gab about how outside themselves the the characters feel, but it's only gab. Biehn, more accustomed to the deep from his last two films, "The Abyss" and "Navy SEALS," runs out of air at these altitudes. A sassy smarty-pants in this role, he's bent on turning "K2" into a cocky mountain high.

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