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'Steep' goes downhill fast

Steep (NR)

2 stars out of 4

Of all the extreme sports, skiing has to be the most thrilling - and easily the most dangerous. Going down a mountain that slopes at a 55 degree angle is perhaps the most physically challenging athletic endeavor a human can attempt, and for about 15 minutes, the viewer is in complete awe of what they're seeing. It will make your heart pump and palms sweat.

Unfortunately, it gets old fast. Watching a dozen people doing basically the same thing might thrill established lovers of the sport, but for the casual viewer, it's just plain redundant. Former TV news producer Mark Obenhaus does little to differentiate his movie from the hundreds of direct-to-video titles that are gobbled up regularly by hardcore fans of the sport. The only advantage "Steep" has over all those videos is a slightly higher level of production value.

Obenhaus really misses the boat in the interviews with the athletes themselves. They're all colorful in their own ways, but everything they have to say about the sport is largely interchangeable: the rush, the flirting-with-death thing, the inability to walk away. It all makes for good copy, but, like the skiing footage, has a distinct air of sameness. Never once does Obenhaus delve into the psyche of the athletes or look at what they do beyond the obvious.

The movie gets close to interesting during the sporadic profiling of Doug Coombs, an acknowledged icon of the sport. Obenhaus' inclusion of revealing interviews with Coombs' wife, Emily, work well. She explains her husband's obsession with the sport and how it figured into their relationship. Breaking up Coombs' story into pieces was a smart move. It offers the only dramatic slant to the movie, and the final chapter of Coombs' story is moving and bittersweet.

What Obenhaus should have done was cut the movie in half, filmed it in the IMAX format and avoided the fawning, tunnel vision, hero-worship angle. Throughout the movie he's preaching to the choir and does little what a documentary filmmaker should do: enlighten and inform.

Opens exclusively at Regal Tara Cinema, 2345 Cheshire Bridge Road, Atlanta. Call 404-634-6288 or visit www.regalcinemas.com. (Sony Pictures Classics)