Film students of the future (say, 100 years from now) will marvel at the prophetic treatment of narrative, the free association in character development and the lateral approach to filmmaking norms demonstrated by “Highlander: Endgame.” Unfortunately, audiences today, hidebound by more conventional thinking, will dismiss this fourth installment in the “Highlander” franchise as a farrago on almost every creative level that looks like it was stitched together from three different movies whose cans got mixed up in the editing suite. “Highlander” completists and air-conditioning addicts will be the only audience for this prior to a less mortal life in ancillary.
Pic was not given any press previews by distrib Miramax. At the Alliance Atlantis promo screening caught in Montreal, audience of popcorn munchers remained slack-jawed throughout.
Nine producers, four writers and seven editors bumped heads to come up with 88 minutes of footage (including credits) whereby Adrian Paul, star of the 1990s TV spinoff, takes the pic franchise over from Christopher Lambert. Task of, um, direction fell to Douglas Aarniokoski, a protege of Robert Rodriguez who’s also made several marketing trailers for Miramax/Dimension. Perhaps no one told him that “Highlander: Endgame” was supposed to be a feature film; that may account for why it plays like a collection of clips in which the same characters happen to appear.
Story whizzes back and forth among 16th and 17th century Scotland, 17th century Italy, 18th century Ireland, Gotham 10 years ago and the present. There’s also an underground cavern called the Sanctuary, a kind of Zen gas station where the few remaining Immortals strap themselves to uncomfortable metal frames and fill up their spiritual tanks.
Before you can say “unleaded,” fellow Immortal Jacob Kell arrives and separates his colleagues’ heads from their bodies, upping his personal score to 600-plus. Jacob is on a mission to become the sole Immortal on the planet, and is also majorly pissed with fellow time traveler Connor MacLeod (Lambert), who accidentally skewered Jacob’s dad in Scotland back in 1555. That Connor did this while escaping from imminent immolation at the stake engineered by Jacob is apparently irrelevant.
Jacob has been pursuing Connor across the centuries, killing his loved ones along the way (e.g., Sheila Gish, with scarcely a minute’s screen time) and even signing up on his team Kate (model-singer Lisa Barbuscia), an 18th century squeeze of Connor’s protege, Duncan (Paul). Kate, now an Immortal known as Faith, with her own New York designer label, is angry at Duncan for robbing her of a normal life and motherhood. Duncan is angry at Connor for leaving him alone and opting out of Immortal society.
Halfway through the picture, Connor, Duncan and Jacob finally meet in a graveyard, but Connor wimps out of taking Jacob on. It’s another half-hour of chaotic window-dressing before the final duel takes place, but first Connor and Duncan have to work out their differences, as only one Immortal is allowed to battle another.
The sheer raggedness of the plotting — and the pic’s cynical disdain toward audiences — is staggering, with no dramatic benefits emerging from the beam-me-up script.
Thesps resolutely play it for the moment, with Payne crunching out lines like “You are my flock; you nourish my soul” (before decapitating his dinner guests) and the highly photogenic Barbuscia looking like she’s strayed off a fashion shoot. Hong Kong action star Donnie Yen makes a brief impression with his trademark whiplash style as one of Jacob’s posse.
With Lambert locked into autodrive, the only one who seems to be seriously working for his paycheck is Paul, but he’s paddling upstream against the boneheaded script and average f/x.
Doug Milsome’s handsome widescreen lensing of Romanian locations serves only to emphasize the lack of craft at other levels. Cutting is down to the bone all the way.