[Screen It]

(2000) (Adrian Paul, Christopher Lambert) (R)

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Action/Adventure: Two of Earth's immortals must battle the most powerful immortal ever with the fate of mankind resting in the balance.
Connor MacLeod (CHRISTOPHER LAMBERT) and Duncan MacLeod (ADRIAN PAUL) are two immortals who've been living on Earth for several hundred years, blessed and/or cursed by their inability to die unless they're beheaded, which only occurs when two such immortals battle each other.

Such immortality has its drawbacks, such as the guilt and remorse of living long after one's many loves have died. Connor is feeling such pain as it's been ten years since a family member died in a suspicious explosion, while Duncan still laments his decision to "kill" his bride, Kate (LISA BARBUSCIA), long ago in the past to activate her immortality. That turned out to be against her wishes and she still holds a grudge against him to this day.

While Duncan has moved on with his life, Connor has gone into seclusion, believing that such isolation will spare him from romantic loss ever again. His sanctuary, however, is brutally interrupted when the most powerful immortal ever, Jacob Kell (BRUCE PAYNE), and his thugs - including Jin Ke (DONNIE YEN) -- kill many other isolated immortals, but let Connor go free.

That's because Kell seems to have a score from the past to settle with Connor and plans to keep him around until the end when he's done killing the rest of the world's immortals. Realizing that Kell's growing more powerful every day - due to him absorbing the powers of the 600 hundred plus other immortals he's previously slain - Connor and Duncan then set out to stop the megalomaniac before he becomes completely invincible.

OUR TAKE: 2 out of 10
Throughout the ages, people have had to face their and others' mortality, with many wondering what it would be like to buck the trend and instead live forever. It's a popular subject of science fiction tales, and such quests by the subjects of those books, films and TV shows usually face various unforeseen complications that prove every time that it isn't wise to fool with Mother Nature.

The way I look at it, the big ramifications that come around to bite those characters in the rear aren't the only things immortals would have to worry about. That's because living forever has its share of less grandiose, but still intrinsic problems that most people don't ever contemplate.

For instance, if you're going to live to be several thousand years old, you'll have to work for at least several hundred of them just to earn enough money to fund those "golden years" of retirement. Then you'll have to worry about the changing fashions across the decades, centuries and millennia, thus necessitating huge closets for all of the clothes and even bigger yard sales to get rid of all of them.

The biggest worry, however, is that based on the cinematic average so far, you'd have to see nearly thirty "Highlander" films every century, a curse that would certainly make most people reconsider the immortality option. Of course, this week's release of "Highlander: Endgame" is being touted as the fourth and final chapter of the series that began with the first film in 1986, but then again no one imagined that film about immortals would spawn three sequels and a long running TV series.

Granted, the first one benefited from an intriguing, if not altogether entirely novel premise (the various vampire stories of yore beat them to the punch about characters dealing with immortality) as well as the presence of Sean "Don't Call Me Bond Anymore" Connery, who proved - along with his work in "The Avengers" - that you can't always be perfect in the films in which you chose to appear.

That film, however, looks like Oscar worthy material when compared to its various sequels, including this one. Hyperkinetic yet boring, with sloppy direction and editing masking some awful, stilted dialogue and wooden/hammy acting, the film will probably only appeal to diehard fans of the series or TV show.

That really shouldn't come as much of a surprise since it may as well have had the big Roman numeral IV after its title, and relatively few film series - save for some installments of the "Star Trek" franchise - are any good once you get past the immediate sequel.

To counter what's otherwise just yet another retreading of the basic "Highlander" storyline - namely a bunch of immortals trying to kill each other because they're too old to belong to the AARP - first time director Douglas Aarniokoski (who makes his debut after serving as the second unit or assistant director on various films) and screenwriter Joel Soisson (the little seen films "Blue Tiger" and "The Supernaturals") -- who works from a story by Eric Bernt and Gillian Horvath & William Panzer - have lifted an idea from the Trek series.

Like the teaming of Captains Kirk and Picard from the two versions of the "Trek" series/movies in 1999's "Star Trek: Generations," the filmmakers here have opted to team together the immortal heroes from the "Highlander" film and TV series, hoping that doing so will electrify the proceedings as well as the fan base of either or both camps.

Not to insult the tastes of either group, but neither Christopher Lambert (who first made his mark with "Greystoke: The Legend of Tarzan, Lord of the Apes" before appearing in the previous three "Highlander" films) nor Adrian Paul (who took over in the TV version and has appeared in films such as "Love Potion No. 9") have what most would consider star power and/or charisma, although Lambert's morose demeanor makes Paul come off like Richard Simmons.

As a result, the film is almost always dreadfully boring to watch, with none but the most ardent fans caring that the two are teamed together or what predicaments the filmmakers may or may not throw their way. While the film does have its share of battle scenes involving those characters, the fact that we're never allowed to become emotionally involved with either man negates their impact and potential.

Immediately sensing that problem and realizing there's little chance it will be corrected, one hopes that perhaps the film's villain - played by Bruce Payne ("Passenger 57," "Howling VI: The Freaks") - might be interesting enough to carry the film or at least keep viewers awake for the ninety some minutes between the time the trailers play and when the pimple-faced ushers quickly swarm in to sweep up the dropped popcorn.

Payne's portrayal of the "most dangerous immortal ever" is certainly interesting, but clearly not for the right reason. Hamming it up to the hilt, he chews on the scenery with such unabated glee that you'd think he was a termite on speed-laced steroids.

If it wasn't so blatantly bad it might be funny, but a little bit of it goes a long way and the script, and its unimaginative/stereotypical villainous material, certainly doesn't help his tragic effort. Supporting performances, while fortunately not as pork-based, don't do much to help the matter and are instantly forgettable (which is probably a good thing for those involved when they try to get their next acting gigs).

While the film's various locales and temporal settings do manage to keep the film from being bad in just one place - not to mention that at least it kept the costume and production designers busy - the story simply isn't engaging or interesting. More often than not it's muddled, disjointed and will probably be rather confusing and convoluted to the uninitiated.

Of course, it's highly unlikely that any such moviegoers will be drawn to this film, which, I suppose, is some form of a blessing in disguise for them. For the rest of us unfortunate enough to pay to see the film, we can always think about what the Greek philosopher Heraclitus once stated about immortality, "Immortal mortals, mortal immortals, one living the others' death and dying the others' life."

Although that doesn't really make much more sense than the film, it's a fun sounding and appropriately related quote that just had to be included somewhere in this review. In the end, if you want to get a taste of how boring and long immorality might feel, a marathon of "Highlander" films - capped by this one - should certainly make people reconsider wishing for such eternal life. "Highlander: Endgame" rates as a tedious 2 out of 10.

Reviewed September 1, 2000 / Posted September 1, 2000

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