2000, R, 85 min. Directed by Doug Aarniokoski. Starring Christopher Lambert, Lisa Barbuscia, Bruce Payne, Adrian Paul, Donnie Yen.
REVIEWED By Russell Smith, Fri., Sept. 8, 2000
Strike the set, box up those bloody latex noggins and sheath those deep-drinking medieval broadswords. The most improbably successful fantasy adventure franchise in movie/TV history is shutting down for good. Or is it? Well, judging from director Aarniokoski's furious efforts to tie up all the loose plot threads from the three previous Highlander movies and two television series, I'm inclined to take the title literally. And frankly, judging from the overall feebleness of this latest installment, there's little reason to expect any major outcry for further elaboration on this enjoyably boneheaded pecs-and-laser f/x mythology. Despite Endgame's efforts to be all things to all Highlander fans, my guess is that devotees of Paul and his small-screen exploits will find more to like here than old-timers who came onboard with the original 1986 Highlander movie starring Lambert in the title role. Most of the myriad plot discrepancies that have piled up over the years seem to have been resolved in favor of the TV version, and the younger, more soigné Paul pulls the lion's share of on-camera time. That's kind of a shame because mush-mouthed beefcake Lambert is actually acquiring a bit of sly subtlety in his old age. More or less the Butch and Sundance of 500-year-old, head-sundering, superhuman Scottish swordsmen Duncan and Connor McLeod (Paul and Lambert), have numerous key scenes together, many in flashback. Besides clearly establishing the gnarly, haunted-looking Lambert as the more interesting character of the two, these scenes also drop plenty of broad hints of the grim sacrifice one of the men will have to make in order to defeat their mutual nemesis, the mega-evil Kell (Payne). Because of its obsession with body counts and power levels -- each time one Immortal beheads another, he gains not only the vanquished party's life force but also that of his victims -- the Highlander series is often disparaged as “video game-like.” In an ill-considered defensive response, Aarniokoski and screenwriter William Panzer have gone overboard in trying to create multidimensional characters and iron out 14 years' worth of narrative kinks. But c'mon, guys: Given this context and audience (lots of solitary young Bernhard Goetz lookalikes in the screening I attended), video-game qualities are virtues, not flaws. Why interrupt the blissful endorphin rush of grisly sword/martial arts/automatic weapon melees with a lot of clumsy exposition on matters that hold subzero interest for 99.9% of the audience? Tell your Syd Field-damaged nitwit producer to sit on his character arcs and rotate. And next time around (if indeed there is a next time), show the courage of your lowbrow convictions and get back to the gonzo, unapologetically senseless mayhem that made this saga so much fun in the beginning.