Avalanche (1999)

When America’s Last Frontier is threatened by certain destruction, it falls on the shoulders of one man to rescue the babe, save the city, and outsmart a murderous herd of polar bears! He also has to break through the emotional barrier his best friend’s old lady erects because she blames him for the death of the man they both loved! And if that wasn’t enough, he’s got to go and survive having his plane shot down in the mountains!

It’s the sort of grocery list of manliness that would test even the studliest of us Arctic he-Gods, but there’s also the business of him setting off a counter-avalanche to divert the first avalanche from the capital of Seward’s Folly itself!

Counter-avalanche? Set off by a guy in a beat up pick up truck with some charges and a remote detonator he ripped off from the local oil company? And he’s a freaking helicopter pilot? You know, it’s that sort of gritty, action-packed improvisation that puts all your name-brand action heroes to shame!

Sure, we all may worship Bruce Willis jumping off exploding skyscrapers, battling a fighter jet with a semi, and blowing up airliners in mid-air with his cigarette lighter, but the guy is a New York cop! Everyone knows those guys are like Superman! But with a badge and minus the wimpy Kryptonite allergy!

Neal Meekin though is just a regular guy who spends his days racing snowmobiles with his best friend! And trying to set up hockey games with the oil refinery guys so that they can get revenge on the plumbers that beat them previously!

But he has his human failings as well! Like how he got his best friend killed in an avalanche because he was late picking him up from the mountain! Because of his hockey team recruiting efforts! Blaming Neal though is a bunch of reindeer crab apples if you ask me! If those sissy oil refinery guys would’ve just signed on right away to the hockey team, Neal wouldn’t have been so dang late!

Two years have gone by and time doesn’t heal the wounds of the avalanche disaster! Dr. Lia Freeman has moved back to the Lower 48 after the death of her husband and she refuses to return Neal’s calls! For his part, Neal demonstrates the sort of brainless resilience we love in our everyman action heroes as he now works for the oil company that accidentally caused the avalanche and he spends his days at work playing hockey in the break room with a crushed up soda can!

In a further demonstration of how badly him getting his pal killed has affected him, Neal has taken to wearing a flannel shirt and baseball cap turned around backwards! My God! The man has reverted to 1990s frat boy! Get the poor bastard some therapy, stat!

Time marches on though, even if our main characters remain emotional midgets! The oil company (Rosga) is ready to open a new pipeline that runs right across the most treacherous path in the mountains that lurk above Juneau! The EPA sends one of its best agents to Juneau to ensure that the pipeline is safe and doesn’t put the city at risk until at least the last half hour of the movie! And just who is the perfect EPA agent for the job? Dr. Lia Freeman of course!

The very same Dr. Lia Freeman who lost the man she loved during an a Rosga-related avalanche just a couple of years ago! It really makes sense to have someone who has such a personal connection to everything involved to sign off on the new pipeline’s safety because if you can satisfy her, it really must be safe! If you are a freaking idiot, that is! What don’t you just have Mrs. Lincoln write up a review of Our American Cousin while you’re at it! (Great drama, but the audience participation sucked!)

A chance encounter with a dead wolf convinces Lia that something is wrong with the pipeline and Neal is quickly roped into her conspiracy theory that the pipeline is unsafe! Neal instantly deduces that the executives with the oil company are using substandard parts, skimming the savings from the cheap parts off for themselves and depositing the proceeds into offshore accounts! Neal of course is instantly wrong! But he’s just a helicopter pilot, not Scotland Yard, right?

The truth behind the microscopic cracks is much more terrifying, which means it is more far-fetched and silly, but when you’re getting to see models of Juneau getting blown up by tidal waves of snow, who really cares? And there’s plenty of destruction dramatized as you would expect from a PM Entertainment production!

PM, known mostly for exploding cars in movies starring Gary Daniels and Jack Scalia (Rage, Dark Breed respectively) steps up into the disaster genre with equal aplomb! Are the special effects pretty rudimentary? Yes! Do guys get set on fire and buried in snow? Double yes!

A PM movie though doesn’t just guarantee all sorts of budget-conscious destruction! Their films also had a tendency to wring the best performances of their careers from the stars appearing in the films! Has Chad McQueen ever been better than when he was Alley Cat in Firepower? And Hologram Man proved that both Joe Lara’s and Evan Lurie’s hair could carry a movie all by themselves! Avalanche though proves to be the biggest revelation as far as a guy finally hitting it out of the park after a career of films seemingly designed to annoy the audience!

In movies such as Excessive Force, Ulterior Motives, Crackerjack, and Beyond Forgiveness, Thomas Ian Griffith (TIG) was consistent in his ability to be as unlikable an action hero as humanly possible. With his posing, faux-world weary and grizzled variations on the cop who plays by his own rules character, TIG was only interesting to watch to see what his hair would look like in a given film. Sometimes pretty-boy long and sometimes old-guy short and gray, you just wished for a movie where you wouldn’t have to concentrate on his hair so you could ignore the intense desire you had to punch him in his smug face.

And now here we are in Avalanche, where he isn’t getting a hernia trying to be a haunted bad ass, but succeeding in being genuinely likable even while being haunted by the death of his best friend and trying to save the capital of our 50th state!

TIG just looks way too young and hunky in his vengeful cop movies to convince any of us that he’s burned out, has a drinking problem, or is capable of tough guy talk. But TIG is the perfect kind of well-scrubbed all-American decent guy to play a helicopter pilot who plays hard and dies even harder while trying to talk a friend out of killing himself even as the biggest avalanche in the history of snow is bearing down on him!

The woman playing Lia is a dour and forgettable presence, but TIG’s giving this one everything he’s got and gets competent support from veteran character actor R. Lee Ermey (Endless Descent, The Terror Within II) in a pivotal role. And I challenge even the most ardent anti-TIG person watching not to change their mind about TIG during the scene where he is trying to coax a wolf cub into talking into a telephone!

It’s an all out action avalanche of Arctic awesome with TIG leading us to the adventure film Promised Land like a North Pole Moses with one big ass freaking commandment we all need to memorize: Thou shalt no longer take TIG’s name in vain!

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