Dragged down by palaver, but soaring on peaks

Filled with breathtaking shots of crazed nutballs on skis plummeting down pitched peaks at high speed, Steep is a visually exhilarating sports documentary that is also more than a little exasperating.

These guys (all but one of the "extreme skiers" featured in Mark Obenhaus' film are men) talk about what they're doing - getting to the trickiest, remotest patches of the Alps, the Rockies or wherever and then zooming groundward - as though there is nothing more meaningful, more profound, more enlightening, for a human being to do.

As hugely skilled and fearless as these skiers are, they're huge with self-importance and hyperbole, too.

But those are the interviews.

Where Steep excels (and accelerates) is on the slopes, as Obenhaus' team of HD-toting camera-folk capture big mountain skiing stars Bill Briggs, Doug Coombs, Chris Davenport, Andrew Mclean and Ingrid Backstrom, zigging, zagging, darting and DROPPING STRAIGHT DOWN some of the most spectacular snow-covered places in the world. Alaska, British Columbia, the French Alps, Iceland . . . the scenery is amazing, and a few of these spots have never been visited by human beings before, with skis or not.

Along with the bluster and blather of the interviews, there's considerable drama in Steep, too. An avalanche is recorded on camera, and the death of one of the big mountain dudes is revealed - just days after he was filmed saying, "Every skier and every climber knows, the mountains are alive and they'll make you more alive - or they'll make you dead."


Steep *** (out of four stars)

Directed by Mark Obenhaus. With Ingrid Backstrom, Bill Briggs, Doug Coombs, Chris Davenport, Andrew Mclean and others. Distributed by Sony Pictures Classics.

Running time: 1 hour, 32 mins.

Parent's guide: PG (profanity, adult themes)

Playing at: Ritz at the Bourse

Contact movie critic Steven Rea at 215-854-5629 or srea@phillynews.com. Read his blog, "On Movies Online," at http://go.philly.com/onmovies.