127 Hours (Twentieth Century Fox) bursts with the excitement of a hard-earned Friday after work, opening with an energetic surge of electronic music and bright, split screen images of people in groups, from praying Moslems to marathon runners, juxtaposed with an individual (James Franco, Milk) preparing for a trip. But it flames out like the afterburn of an extreme sports adventure, which is not for lack of trying on Franco’s part. With striking photography of a sunrise or the desolate part of earth where Franco’s thrill-seeking character, based on a true story, decides to test his limits, 127 Hours bursts with sporadically interesting flashes. Once he’s out in nature, he engages a tactile sense of play, running his fingers along the rocks, shooting video of himself after a tumble, and challenging two fellow travelers to daring leaps into an abyss.
But 127 Hours is not as exciting as it sounds, even as he misjudges a step, becomes wedged behind a boulder and is left screaming in frustration at having exceeded his limits. At that point, the picture becomes all about his hallucinations, rather tame self-talk and understandable thoughts about life and death as an inevitable decision makes itself abundantly clear (this material is extremely gruesome). There’s a raven, a jet airplane, and obligatory flashbacks, but even the affable Franco can’t save this mediocre movie from feeling like it lasts 127 weeks. Man is small, helpless, and insignificant, the story goes, and, though he tells himself to keep calm and “think, just think”, one cannot help but think about how stupid he was to venture into the wilderness alone, without a means of communication (it takes place in 2003) without telling anyone where he was going. Never having learned more about the man than that he has ordinary preferences drains the climax of its impact, even with its remarkable context. So, the spirit of going it alone is humbled in 127 Hours, which is too bad, because this adventurer’s problem was not that he went solo; it’s that he failed to project beyond the range of the moment.