Climber Cuts Off Arm, Tapes Farewell; Downey’s Road Trip: Film

James Franco in "127 Hours." The film is about the overwhelming urge to live in the face of death. Photographer: Chuck Zlotnick/Fox Searchlight via Bloomberg

Some moviegoers fainted during festival screenings of “127 Hours,” when mountain climber Aron Ralston cuts off his lower right arm to free himself from a giant boulder.

Don’t let those reports scare you away from Danny Boyle’s daring, spine-tingling drama, which features a remarkable performance by James Franco as the real-life adventurer who spent six days trapped in a remote Utah canyon after falling during a weekend hike in 2003.

Most of the 90-minute movie takes place inside that narrow canyon, where Ralston survives with a meager supply of food and water, a dull utility knife and a steely determination. Except for a brief encounter with two women hikers, periodic flashbacks and his helicopter rescue, Franco commands the screen by himself.

We see him chiseling away at the rock, carving his name on the wall and using his camcorder to record what he assumes will be a video farewell to friends and family. We watch him run out of water and resort to drinking his own urine. We hear him narrate his predicament in a mock TV appearance accompanied by canned laughter.

Dull Knife

As much as I wanted to look away at times, I couldn’t because Franco is mesmerizing. He portrays despair and hope with equal alacrity. He laughs, he cries and he shouts without resorting to hammy tricks or tearjerker conventions. He makes his own special effects.

So does Boyle, a British cult director before gaining worldwide fame for “Slumdog Millionaire.” He jazzes things up with dreamy flashbacks to Ralston’s childhood, chilling close-ups of the climber’s face as he struggles to escape and an adrenaline-pumping soundtrack.

But Boyle never loses sight of the central story, which is the overwhelming urge to live in the face of death.

When Ralson starts hacking away at his arm with that dull knife, the squeamish may have to close their eyes. Everyone else will watch with awe and wonder.

“127 Hours,” from Fox Searchlight Pictures,” now playing in New York and Los Angeles. Rating: ***1/2

‘Due Date’

Ethan Tremblay is a doltish actor who carries his late father’s ashes in a coffee can, never goes anywhere without his French Bulldog and pretends to have glaucoma to justify his marijuana habit. Peter Highman is a tightly wound architect who’s about to fly home to witness the birth of his first child.

When their paths cross at the Atlanta airport and they end up on a no-fly list, it leads to a bizarre cross-country trip to Los Angeles that includes a car plunging off an overpass, an arrest at the Mexican border, an accidental shooting and a butt-kicking by a wheelchair-bound vet.

“Due Date,” starring Robert Downey Jr. and Zach Galifianakis, is an amiable, slapdash comedy that follows in the footsteps of other odd-couple road movies like “Midnight Run” and “Planes, Trains and Automobiles.”

But with its first-class comic pedigree -- it was written by Alan R. Cohen and Alan Freedland (TV’s “King of the Hill”) and directed by Todd Phillips (“The Hangover”) -- it should be funnier.

Downey and Galifianakis make a fine mismatched pair, and Juliette Lewis has a hilarious cameo as a drug-dealing mom. But Jamie Foxx is wasted as an old friend of Highman’s and the inevitable rapprochement between the traveling companions gets a little too touchy-feely.

“Due Date,” from Warner Bros. Pictures, now playing across the U.S. Rating: **1/2

What the Stars Mean:

****          Excellent
***           Good
**            Average
*             Poor
(No stars)    Worthless

(Rick Warner is the movie critic for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. Opinions expressed are his own.)

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