An unbelievably trashy meltdown of the tartan warrior franchise, “Highlander III: The Sorcerer” checks in as a breakneck, roller-coaster genre ride that’s brainless fodder for undiscriminating auds. Despite a 1995 copyright date, this Canadian-French-British co-production got fast theatrical playoff in Blighty starting Nov. 25, without advance press previews.
Pic starts with a 15-minute, “Conan”-like prologue in which evil warrior Kane (Mario Van Peebles) surprises Connor MacLeod (Christopher Lambert) and his teacher Nakano (Mako) at the latter’s Japanese lair inside Mt. Niri. After decapitating Nakano, Kane and his two sidekicks are buried under the collapsing mountain, and Nakano’s super powers pass instead to Connor.
Fast-forward 400 years to 1994, and no sooner has Yank archaeologist Alex (Deborah Unger) flown in to verify some artifacts that could confirm the site of the legendary mountain than Kane breaks out and sets off in search of Connor, killing one of his own sidekicks to get a surge of super power.
Spotting the special effects on the horizon while riding in the Moroccan desert with his adopted son, Connor hightails it to New York to work out what on Earth is going on. He’s promptly gunned down by some muggers and locked up in a psycho ward.
While Alex analyzes a scrap of 400-year-old tartan, Connor breaks out and decapitates Kane’s other sidekick, getting his own fix of super power. An amazingly smart New York cop who remembers similar events “eight years ago” (year of the first pic’s release) realizes Connor must be in town and tracks him down under his modern alias, antique dealer Russell Nash.
Kane also finds Connor and, after a trapeze sword fight that ends with Connor’s blade shattered, he morphs into a bird and flies off. Meanwhile, Alex gives Connor a severe case of the flashbacks, as she reminds him of his second wife, Sarah, circa the French Revolution.
Connor beetles off to the Scottish highlands, “where it all began,” forges a new sword, is tracked down by Alex, and finally makes it with her in a brief T&A sequence. Final showdown has all parties (plus Connor’s son) flying into Newark and dueling it out in a deserted N.J. refinery.
Given there’s enough material here for a four-hour miniseries, it’s hardly surprising the plot jumps more lights than a runaway ambulance. Lumbered with Lambert’s largely incomprehensible accent (not helped by an indistinct soundtrack), British video director Andy Morahan wisely keeps dialogue pared to the bone and lets his five separate units (in Canada, Morocco, Scotland, France and New York) and f/x team get on with the job.
Acting is video caliber, ranging from Van Peebles’ manic hamming as the nose-ringed baddie to Unger’s straighter playing of the double role of Brit Sarah and Yank Alex. Lambert remains charmlessly wooden throughout.
Color ranges from sharp and attractive in the Scottish and Moroccan scenes to often cheesy or ruddy elsewhere. Effects are OK but repetitive, and scoring veers wildly between mock-heroic orchestral to deafening hard rock.