An extroverted photojournalist scrambles to grab a flight for her wedding. An introverted neurosurgeon is even more desperate to get back home. Their small plane goes down high in the Rockies, leaving them in a harrowing fight to stay alive.
Absorbing drama ought to be the one thing that Kate Winslet and Idris Elba have in plentiful supply in “The Mountain Between Us.” Instead, this thinly scripted survival story is as fluffy as the countless acres of powder that the two struggle to traverse. Adapted by Dutch-Palestinian director Hany Abu-Assad (“Paradise Now,” “Omar”) from novelist Charles Martin’s book, the film feels as if it’s drawing its characterizations far more from the appeal of its stars than from any prose.
Winslet and Elba get to work straight off, deftly playing an airport opener that might otherwise lose us as an overdone portrait of high-powered lives. However contrived it might seem that Alex (Winslet) would let a photo assignment bump up against her big day, her cool in handling a canceled flight makes us forgive. Thinking fast, she hitches a twin-engine lift to Denver along with surgeon Ben (Elba), who’s similarly, sympathetically anxious at the thought of missing an urgent operation. Problem solved, until their pilot (Beau Bridges) falls ill en route, and the plane goes down in a dynamically shot crash sequence.
Scenery aside, there’s a lot that’s unconvincing about the disaster’s aftermath and the ensuing trek back to civilization. Gimpy Alex yearns for her fiance (Dermot Mulroney) without giving any real sense of what exactly she misses. Hippocratic Ben barely mentions that critical patient again, and the emergency medicine he’s forced to practice doesn’t get much more expert than bedpan duty. There are odd-fitting light snippets with a lovable dog that made it off the plane. Emotional reveals from both Ben and Alex strive to be Big Moments, when a quirky little riff on “The Graduate” feels more authentic, and more nimbly establishes some chemistry between them. (As if you didn’t know that was coming.)
The pair’s tense debates about staying put are an element that does ring true amid the various false notes. But their other disagreements seem concocted to buttress the movie’s overstated, eponymous metaphor. Not that we’d prefer to see these characters staring down some genuinely insurmountable obstacle — it’s Kate and Idris, after all, and they make us root for a happy ending. There’s just less in their path than the filmmakers pretend.
THE MOUNTAIN BETWEEN US
Directed by Hany Abu-Assad. Written by Chris Weitz and J. Mills Goodloe, based on the novel by Charles Martin. Starring Kate Winslet, Idris Elba. At Boston Common, Fenway, suburbs. 103 minutes. PG-13 (a scene of sexuality, peril, injury images, brief strong language).