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Highlander: Endgame   D

Dimension Films

Year Released: 2000
MPAA Rating: R
Director: Douglas Aarniokoski
Writers: Joel Soisson (story by Gillian Horvath and Bill Panzer)
Cast: Adrian Paul, Christopher Lambert, Bruce Payne, Lisa Barbuscia, Donnie Yen, Ian Paul Cassidy, Adam Copeland, Jim Byrnes, Peter Wingfield.

Review by Mike Bracken

Being a huge fan of all things Highlander (well, except for that dreadful Highlander 2: The Quickening -- I don't know anyone who admits to liking that) it was a given that I'd run out and catch the earliest possible showing of the fourth film installment of the series, Highlander: Endgame -- the first film to merge the universe of the three feature films with the alternate universe of the now defunct television series. I figured that given the general overall quality of the films, coupled with the quality of the series (which, despite what many detractors will tell you, actually blossomed into something quite good after the first season -- it certainly developed just as much of a cult following as the films, anyway) that it was a safe bet that the new film would be at worst decent -- but I was wrong. Oh, Highlander: Endgame isn't awful (at least not in that Highlander 2 sense) -- it's just not very good, either.

I suppose now would be a good time to clue in any of you who've been residing under rocks for the last decade or so about what Highlander involves. In the Highlander universe, immortals have been living amongst us undetected for thousands of years. No one really knows what the immortals are, or where they came from (because any attempt to explain that has been generally met with great derision -- derision to the point that where actual film explanations have been scrapped in subsequent incarnations of Highlander). All that's known about the immortals is that they can die in only one way -- if they're beheaded. So, these immortals live amongst us through the ages -- secretly duking it out in swordfights where the winner takes his enemy's head -- and his power through an elaborate lightstorm called 'the quickening'. Eventually, there will come a time of The Gathering, where all the immortals come to one place and fight it out till only one remains -- there can be only one -- and that guy gets the prize, which basically means he's ruler of the universe.

In the film versions, the story focused on Connor MacLeod (Christopher Lambert: Greystoke: The Legend of Tarzan), a Scottish Highlander who died in battle but later came back to life. After the success of the films, it was decided that a TV series might do well, so fans were treated to Highlander: The Series, wherein Adrian Paul played Duncan Macleod -- a descendant of Connor, also immortal. OK, now that we've got that cleared up a bit, let's move on to the review.

Highlander: Endgame is essentially the Star Trek: Generations of the series -- meaning it's a transitional film wherein the torch is passed from the old guard (Christopher Lambert's Connor) to the new guard (Adrian Paul's Duncan) in hopes that the series will carry on in a new direction while remaining true to the spirit of the original. As far as plot goes, this presents a bit of a problem. Since Highlander features a film universe and a television universe (and the two do overlap, but not entirely since there really hasn't been a film since the series started to branch out) the film must bring the two together while keeping in mind that a lot of the film's fans aren't all that conversant on the intricacies of the television series. So, the screenwriter has two options: One is to spend a lot of time filling in all the backstory information so everyone's up to speed. The other is to simply gloss over all that stuff and hope that people just figure it out as you go. Worst case scenario, you try a little of both -- and leave everyone bored and confused, which is what happens here.

The film opens by showing us Connor, in NYC, 10 years ago. Rachel (Sheila Gish) Connor's secretary from the original film still works for him running the antique shop, but she makes the mistake of answering a phone -- and blowing up the whole building in the process. Connor, grief stricken, heads off for some immortal hideaway called The Sanctuary -- wherein he's hooked up to some weird looking machines and put in safe storage.

Meanwhile, we get our first flashback -- returning to Scotland after Connor's been exiled from his clan. Wife Heather (Beatie Edney, the same actress as in the original) is still with him, and he seems happy -- at least until he discovers his Mom is about to be executed for simply being his mother (although, she can't really be his Mom, because immortals are always foundlings -- and can't have kids of their own). Connor decides to save Mom, which leads to him being captured. To make a long story short, he makes a lifelong enemy during his escape -- another immortal named Jacob Kell (Bruce Payne: Passenger 57).

Back in the present, and in London, we meet up with Duncan -- who fears something has happened to Connor (Kell destroys the sanctuary) and sets out find him, but finds Kell's footsoldiers first (led by the incredible Donny Yen, who's totally wasted in this film). From there, we meet Duncan's former bride, Kate (Lisa Barbuscia), get caught up with series mainstays Joe Dawson (Jim Byrnes) and Methos (Peter Wingfield -- both of whom get a criminally small amount of screen time), then jump right into the standard good immortals battle bad immortal storyline, complete with lots of melodrama and a few decent swordfights along the way.

Perhaps the greatest problem with the film (and there are many problems with this movie) is that in trying to marry the two universes and fit in the important characters from each, the film is forced to create scenes that serve no other purpose than to give these fan favorites a few seconds screen time. Because these scenes have no real motivation in terms of moving the plot forward, they seem to drag the film down and exist solely as filler. Instead of giving important characters like Joe Dawson and Methos two scenes with nothing to do, why not just write a script that incorporates those characters into the storyline in a meaningful way? Long time fans are bound to be disappointed by the limited role that each of these characters gets and the fact that the scenes they're in serve no real purpose -- instead looking like afterthoughts to fit in a few cameos.

The other problem is that the film is confusing -- and needlessly so. Fans who aren't familiar with the TV series will be wondering who Methos and Joe Dawson are because they're given nothing in the way of introduction. Same goes for the Watcher organization, which appears in one scene, and does something that seems totally out of character for the organization anyway. Many who see this film will be familiar with the films -- but not everyone's seen the series (at least not in depth, where they're completely familiar with all the mythology) -- and the lack of explanations in some segments will be sure to leave some audience members scratching their heads in bewilderment.

Still another problem involves the fact that the film wastes its best performer, Donny Yen. Yen, who's a certified star in Hong Kong, plays the lead henchman here. He gets one scene early on where he shows some martial arts skills, then a scene where he and Adrian Paul fight it out (which is the film's best scene, despite some extraneous editing), then he's all but gone from the rest of the film. Here's the most engaging character in the entire film, and he gets roughly three scenes and four lines of dialogue. Of course, fans showing up to see WWF wrestling superstar Edge will be even more disappointed -- his screen time is in the one-minute range -- I kid you not.

And last, but not least, Jacob Kell isn't the best villain I've ever seen, which is sad, because Highlander -- both the film and the show -- have always featured some great bad guys. Kell's failure isn't something you can totally pin on Bruce Payne -- Payne gives it a game effort, although he tends to chew the scenery in most of his scenes (but, then again, so did The Kurgan). The real problem seems to be the way the character's written -- he's given a wealth of melodramatic lines, then the screenwriter tries to throw in a humorous aside -- only they don't work (OK, one of them made me laugh and one made me sort of snicker/wince -- but the rest flop). I'm probably most disappointed by this, mainly because Bruce Payne is a B actor who I generally like, and because the villains (e.g. The Kurgan, Kane, Kalas, Xavier St. Cloud, and Cronos) were always one of the strong points of both the films and the series.

However, not everything's bad here. Adrian Paul and Christopher Lambert do commendable jobs with the lame dialogue and situations they're given in the script. Each does a particularly nice job in the scene that serves as the second act's climax -- but I won't go into detail here because I don't want to give a major plot point away. Lambert's showing his age a bit, but it's still nice to see him back in the trench coat, reprising his most famous role. Adrian Paul's female fans will be pleased to know that they get to see some skin -- after years of having to deal with American television censors.

The plot itself becomes enjoyable enough, once the filmmakers get everyone's cameos out of the way and the film settles down into the standard Highlander plotline -- good guys must kill what appears to be insurmountable bad guy. Also, I should point out that the scene featured so prominently in the trailer -- where Kell is sliced down the middle, splitting into two Kells -- is nowhere to be found in the film. Kell's a standard immortal, not something akin to the television series' Cassandra the immortal witch, which those scenes sort of intimated.

Finally, there's some nice cinematography in the film, particularly a series of helicopter shots flying over some deserted ruins of Scottish castles. Scotland's a beautiful place -- they probably should have shot the entire film there.

In the end (there can be only one...sorry), Highlander: Endgame is a disappointing film. It tries to marry the film universe and the television universe in one storyline, but leaves far too many important points unmentioned or glossed over. Couple this with the disjointed feel in many of the early scenes (which appear designed for nothing else than to let prominent actors from the Highlander universe make cameo appearances), the wasting of Donny Yen, and a hammy main villain and you've got a recipe for cinematic disaster. Unfortunately, this movie just doesn't feel like a feature length film. Instead, it feels like a lengthy trailer for some other film -- and that's sad because the series demonstrated on several occasions (with two-hour episodes like "Comes a Horseman" and "Revelations 6:8") that it could mimic a feature-length film's feel on a television episode's budget. As a fan of the Highlander universe, it hurts to have to give this film such a negative review -- but, unless you're a Highlander completist or rabid fan, I'd skip this one...or at least wait till it shows up on video.

Review published 09.15.2000.

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