Christopher Lambert

Highlander: Endgame (2000, Douglas Aarniokoski)

For all intents and purposes, there’s nothing nice to say about Highlander: Endgame. Maybe there’s an almost all right moment between Lisa Barbuscia and Adrian Paul. They’re married, but estranged. They’re both immortal, something he didn’t tell her before killing her to bring about her immortal existence. It’s terribly handled in the flashback sequences and not exactly done well in the modern day stuff, but Paul can emote serious without actually being able to act serious and Barbuscia really isn’t bad when she’s not playing an evil tough guy. It’s like Paul and Barbuscia remembered a better scene from an acting class and tried it out in Endgame. But, otherwise, it’s bereft of quality.

Joel Soisson’s script isn’t good, but it’s not utter crap. It’s mildly competent. If director Aarniokoski had any ability whatsoever, the film would have moved. But there’s also Douglas Milsome’s awful photography, the six terrible editors, the lame music, the cheap looking sets, the lousy special effects. Even Christopher Lambert deserves better than Aarniokoski. Lambert’s a trooper. He’s bad, but he’s willing. Aarniokoski doesn’t do anything with him. Aarniokoski’s camera doesn’t have any connection with the characters. It’s so bad. Aarniokoski does a really, really bad job. And Milsome enables some of it.

Because, Endgame is a part of what was once an almost reputable cult franchise. Things went wrong, but Highlander was an HBO hit in the eighties when HBO movie hits mattered. And Endgame is even more horrifying because it actually tries really hard to be a sequel to the original movie. It can’t be a sequel to the original because it’s a sequel to the TV show, but it wants to pretend. Aarniokoski doesn’t care enough pretend, but Lambert and the script want to pretend. So it’s depressing. It’s actually depressing.

Endgame is about pitying the people who tried to care about it. Not just the actors, but the audience. Watching this movie makes you feel bad for the other people who have seen it.

Lousy performance from Bruce Payne as the villain. It’d be laughable but it always feels like there’s a chance Payne is intentionally doing vamp camp so maybe it’s somehow brilliant. But it can’t be because Aarniokoski’s bad at directing actors too. He’s bad at filming actors act. It’s an incredibly poorly directed film. It’s stunning.

Oh, and Donnie Yen’s good. Beatie Edney too. She manages to have class, which is something because there’s no class anywhere else in this picture.

It doesn’t even move well. It’s less than ninety minutes and there’s always action and it doesn’t even move. Endgame is the pits.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Douglas Aarniokoski; screenplay by Joel Soisson, based on a story by Eric Bernt, Gillian Horvath and William N. Panzer and characters created by Gregory Widen; director of photography, Douglas Milsome; edited by Chris Blunden, Rod Dean, Robert A. Ferretti, Tracy Granger, Michael N. Knue and Donald Paonessa; music by Nick Glennie-Smith and Stephen Graziano; production designers, Jonathan A. Carlson and Stephen Scott; produced by Peter S. Davis, Panzer and Brian Gordon; released by Dimension Films.

Starring Christopher Lambert (Connor MacLeod), Adrian Paul (Duncan MacLeod), Bruce Payne (Jacob Kell), Lisa Barbuscia (Faith), Donnie Yen (Jin Ke), Jim Byrnes (Joe Dawson), Peter Wingfield (Methos), Damon Dash (Carlos), Beatie Edney (Heather), Sheila Gish (Rachel) and June Watson (Caiolin MacLeod)


Highlander: The Final Dimension (1994, Andrew Morahan), the European version

About the only complementary thing in Highlander: The Final Dimension is Steven Chivers’s photography. The film’s got a terrible color palette, which isn’t a surprise since all of director Morahan’s decisions are bad, but Chivers never lets the film look cheap. It’s clearly cheap, but Chivers refuses to acknowledge it. It’s kind of cool. But only with a qualifier or two, because the crappy color palettes are a real problem. Most of Morahan’s direction is bad and Chivers does nothing to alleviate its damage on the film.

Well, I suppose there really isn’t much you could do for Final Dimension. A better director would have helped, but only so much. It’s one of those pictures not just without anything going for it, but without anything good in it. Deborah Kara Unger arguably gives the film’s best performance, but only because it’s the least worst. Unless you count Mako, who stands in for Sean Connery in this entry. He manages to keep a straight face opposite Christopher Lambert.

Final Dimension is one of those too craven sequels. It borrows story beat after story beat from the first film–though Unger doesn’t even get to be the damsel in distress, Lambert’s got a little kid to threaten in this entry. As that little kid, Gabriel Kakon is atrocious. No surprise, but Morahan can’t direct actors either. So it’s like watching all the action from the first film done in Panavision by a bad director shooting it in Canada. With photographer Chivers trying so hard to distract from its lack of domestic shooting locations, he just makes the film look terrible to hide it. Like I said, it’s kind of admirable. Chivers can clearly do a better job–lighting this terrible palette takes skills–but he doesn’t. There’s no excelling in the Final Dimension.

As the villain, Mario Van Peebles is almost funny. He’s just strange enough not to be sad, but he’s not strange enough to be interesting. A lot of it is an objectively bad performance. Some of it has the promise of a better performance. Again, Morahan. Also, it’s a terrible script. What is anyone going to do with a terrible script? Unger tries with her crusading archeologist bit but once the film gets her clothes off, it stops giving her anything to do.

Really bad performance from Martin Neufeld as the angry cop who’s after Lambert. Final Dimension fails on every level. It can’t even do bit parts well. It doesn’t have a script going for it, doesn’t have a director, doesn’t have production values (awful music from J. Peter Robinson, bad editing from Yves Langlois), but it doesn’t even have a good casting director. Maybe because there’s no credited casting director.

It’s a movie with a terrible Christopher Lambert performance I don’t even want to pick on. It’s such a bad script, turning Lambert into a nineties action hero dad while more T–800 than Highlander… it’s not a fair fight. Amid all the crappy work in Highlander: The Final Dimension, there apparently can be only one to do the crappiest work and it’s screenwriter Paul Ohl.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Andrew Morahan; screenplay by Paul Ohl, based on a story by Brad Mirman and William N. Panzer and characters created by Gregory Widen; director of photography, Steven Chivers; edited by Yves Langlois; music by J. Peter Robinson; production designers, Gilles Aird and Ben Morahan; produced by Claude Léger; released by Dimension Films.

Starring Christopher Lambert (Connor MacLeod), Mario Van Peebles (Kane), Deborah Kara Unger (Alex Johnson), Gabriel Kakon (John MacLeod), Martin Neufeld (Lt. John Stenn), Daniel Do (Dr. Fuji Takamura), Michael Jayston (Jack Donovan) and Mako (Nakano).


Highlander II: The Quickening (1991, Russell Mulcahy)

Highlander II: The Quickening has had a reputation as a sequel disaster since its release. Outside of “Starlog” write-ups, did anyone ever pretend to be excited about this film? But since its initial release (and multiple home video re-releases with different editing), The Quickening has actually gotten to be a wonderful time capsule of its era and situation.

The film is desperate. It goes all out. People like hoverboards from Back to the Future Part II, let’s have hoverboards. The ladies liked stars Christopher Lambert and Sean Connery with long hair in the first one, let’s do all long hair in the second one. Highlander 2 ought to be subtitled Big Hair and Big Swords because it’s desperate enough to give villain Michael Ironside long hair, presumably to make him… sexy?

Now. Ironside. Real quick. He ought to look embarrassed and he doesn’t. He gets through. John C. McGinley not so much, but Ironside gets through. He’s the lamest early nineties movie villain–a mix of the savage punk villain from the previous Highlander and Jack Nicholson’s Joker from Batman–but Ironside does get through it.

Sean Connery’s actually okay enough. Lambert’s bad but how could anyone be good. He’s so bad he’s better under the old age make-up at the beginning than when he’s young again.

Virginia Madsen is not good as the love interest. It’s a terrible part, but she’s still not good. Oh, look, a metaphor for the entire film. It’s terrible for multiple reasons, but it could never be good. Even when Highlander 2 does something right for a little while, it gets screwed up. Director Mulcahy has a handful of decent concepts, but they’re either too short or ultimately fail. And when it seems like a perfect Mulcahy moment–many of the sets are enormous so Mulcahy can do his swinging crane shots–he never takes advantage. It’s puzzling and disconcerting.

Weird score from Stewart Copeland, weirder pop soundtrack. Both are bad, but interesting in their weirdness. Like everything else, they’re desperate to appear hip. Peter Bellwood’s lousy script apes corporations as bad guys from Robocop and Total Recall, bringing along poor Ironside from that latter as well. Highlander 2 is a sequel to a cable and home video hit desperately trying to be a cable and home video hit.

I suppose it’s oddly appropriate a film about immortality is also such a perfect time capsule of a popular filmmaking era. It’s such a perfect example of it, I’m only moderately embarrassed to have written over 400 words about it right now.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Russell Mulcahy; screenplay by Peter Bellwood, based on a story by Brian Clemens and William N. Panzer and characters created by Gregory Widen; director of photography, Phil Meheux; edited by Hubert C. de la Bouillerie and Anthony Redman; music by Stewart Copeland; production designer, Roger Hall; produced by Jean-Luc Defait, Ziad El Khoury, Peter S. Davis and Panzer; released by Interstar.

Starring Christopher Lambert (Connor MacLeod), Sean Connery (Juan Sánchez Villa-Lobos Ramírez), Virginia Madsen (Louise Marcus), Michael Ironside (General Katana), Allan Rich (Allan Neyman), John C. McGinley (David Blake) and Ed Trucco (Jimmy).


Mortal Kombat (1995, Paul W.S. Anderson)

I can’t think of another movie with such a dearth of acting ability. It’s another reason Mortal Kombat, specifically its financial success, is something of a milestone. Combined with the terrible CG, the movie’s box office achievement shows how little general audiences—specifically males—care about anything of quality.

I think Trevor Goddard gives the best performance. He’s supposed to be evil and dumb. I believed his character to be both.

For such a big movie, Mortal Kombat only has a handful of actors, supporting and principal. Robin Shou, Linden Ashby, Bridgette Wilson, Christopher Lambert and Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa are basically the speaking cast (in addition to Goddard).

In another achievement, the film actually features a Lambert performance where he’s better than someone else. Tagawa’s exaggerated facial expressions suggest director Anderson told him to perform like a maniacal cartoon. It’s truly one of the silliest, bad performances.

The earnest attempts—from Shou and Wilson—are no better. Shou struts around with hair from an eighties band (all he needs is a hat). In fact, a hat would help, it might be able to act. Wilson’s even worse. Some of her problem is screenwriter Droney’s dialogue, but not all of it. She’s just awful. When the film follows her, it’s hard to believe Anderson and the crew were able to shoot the scene without giggling.

Ashby’s weak, also because of the script, but I suppose he’s better than Shou and Wilson.

Anderson’s got some decent setups, but Mortal Kombat’s still dreadful.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Paul W.S. Anderson; screenplay by Kevin Droney, based on video games by Ed Boon and John Tobias; director of photography, John R. Leonetti; edited by Martin Hunter; music by George S. Clinton; production designer, Jonathan A. Carlson; produced by Lauri Apelian and Lawrence Kasanoff; released by New Line Cinema.

Starring Robin Shou (Liu Kang), Linden Ashby (Johnny Cage), Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa (Shang Tsung), Bridgette Wilson (Sonya Blade), Talisa Soto (Princess Kitana), Trevor Goddard (Kano), Chris Casamassa (Scorpion), François Petit (Sub-Zero) and Christopher Lambert (Lord Rayden).


Knight Moves (1992, Carl Schenkel)

I think I’ve seen Knight Moves at least twice before. The first time I saw it I stopped watching Night Moves and went back to the video store for this one.

What can I say? I had no taste when I was fourteen.

Starting it this time, though, I knew what I was getting into (okay, I didn’t know it ran almost two hours). I knew Christopher Lambert’s performance would be awful–I’m not sure he could convincingly order a cup of coffee–and I assumed Diane Lane’s would be too. There’s this amazingly directed scene of them on a beach… and, wow, are they awful. I mean, their scenes together are just laughably atrocious.

For the most part, however, the rest of the film isn’t. The third act is terrible, but it’s otherwise a decent murder mystery, with Tom Skerritt giving a great performance as the cop. Daniel Baldwin’s okay as his sidekick; he’s occasionally bad.

But the reason I watched Knight Moves, the only reason to watch Knight Moves, is director Carl Schenkel. Schenkel is, near as I can tell, totally unappreciated (I can’t really say anything–I love the guy and had no idea he had dead). He shouldn’t be unappreciated though. Knight Moves is one of the finest directed Panavision mysteries–until the complete script failure in the third act. Every frame is exquisite. I can’t even imagine what Schenkel would have been able to do with a slightly better script and actual actors for leads.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Carl Schenkel; written by Brad Mirman; director of photography, Dietrich Lohmann; edited by Norbert Herzner; music by Anne Dudley; production designer, Graeme Murray; produced by Jean-Luc Defait and Ziad El Khoury; released by Republic Pictures.

Starring Christopher Lambert (Peter Sanderson), Diane Lane (Kathy Sheppard), Tom Skerritt (Capt. Frank Sedman), Daniel Baldwin (Det. Andy Wagner), Alex Diakun (Grandmaster Lutz), Ferdy Mayne (Jeremy Edmonds), Katharine Isabelle (Erica Sanderson), Kehli O’Byrne (Debi Rutlege), Blu Mankuma (Steve Nolan), Monica Marko (Miss Greenwell), Charles Bailey-Gates (David Willerman), Arthur Brauss (Viktor Yurilivich) and Sam Malkin (Doctor Fulton).


Highlander II: The Quickening (1991, Russell Mulcahy), the international version

When subjecting myself to Highlander II, I wanted to find the worst version possible. Over the years, the director and then the producers have returned to the film and tried to edit the footage into something more palatable. Of course, these attempts are not just hampered by the use of existing footage (it’s not like there’s some great version lost out there), but also by the fact the film’s one of the worst acted motion pictures in the medium (at least by professional actors).

So the version I watched has all the alien planet references, which contradict the first movie, among other assaults on the intellect. Given I don’t like the first one–it’s far better than this one though–I don’t really care about the continuity. I care more about things like Christopher Lambert essentially forcing himself on Virginia Madsen. One of his new magical powers is Love Potion #9… or she just got Stockholm Syndrome super fast.

Madsen might give the best performance. Either her or Sean Connery. Both are pretty bad by regular standards, but when they’re giving these performances amid Lambert, Michael Ironside (who might give a worse performance than Lambert, which is extraordinary) and John C. McGinley (did he ever work again after this one?)….

I spent about half the movie wondering what a well-budgeted, well-scripted Russell Mulcahy effort would be like–then remembered the Shadow (which is superb). Even though he’s shooting idiotic material and bad performances, Mulcahy’s talent is clearly visible.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Russell Mulcahy; screenplay by Peter Bellwood, based on a story by Brian Clemens and William N. Panzer and characters created by Gregory Widen; director of photography, Phil Meheux; edited by Hubert C. de la Bouillerie and Anthony Redman; music by Stewart Copeland; production designer, Roger Hall; produced by Jean-Luc Defait, Ziad El Khoury, Peter S. Davis and Panzer; released by Interstar.

Starring Christopher Lambert (Connor MacLeod), Sean Connery (Juan Sánchez Villa-Lobos Ramírez), Virginia Madsen (Louise Marcus), Michael Ironside (General Katana), Allan Rich (Allan Neyman), John C. McGinley (David Blake) and Ed Trucco (Jimmy).


Greystoke: The Legend of Tarzan, Lord of the Apes (1984, Hugh Hudson), the extended version

Greystoke ought to work. From the opening, it really seems like it might. It survives a massive narrative hiccup–switching perspective from young Tarzan to explorer Ian Holm. It establishes people in ape costumes as believable, sympathetic, feeling characters. It’s got beautiful cinematography, Hugh Hudson’s a fine director, and John Scott’s got one great score for the film. But it fails in the end. It doesn’t sputter out–the second half of the film, the return to civilization, is lengthy and problematic, but it isn’t failing–the film fails in the third act. It becomes contrived and trite, something the entire civilization half always teeters on anyway.

The script’s constantly reminding the viewer of previous scenes (death is a big thing, all the major death scenes are the same) and it’s unclear why the screenwriters went the hackneyed route. There’s a lot of aversion in Greystoke–the film avoids addressing both Christopher Lambert’s loincloth and lack of facial hair–but the film’s straight-forward attempt at telling its story, with the beautifully produced ape scenes, is creative. The problem seems to be a storytelling one (there are some production problems I’ll get to in a minute) and it has to do with perspective. The film’s not comfortable making grown Tarzan (Lambert) the protagonist. He’s always the subject. When Tarzan’s a kid, he can be the dialogue-free protagonist… but as an adult capable of speech, the film abandons him. Instead, it’s all about Ralph Richardson, Ian Holm and John Wells observing him.

The Ralph Richardson scenes are fine. He and Lambert have a definite chemistry, and so do Lambert and Holm. The Holm scenes aren’t as good, because the film avoids the most interesting part–how he and Lambert get from Africa to England–but whatever. As soon as they leave the jungle, Greystoke‘s on the path toward being a BBC winter fiasco. The constant voiceovers (both Lambert and Richardson think of previous conversations in the film, to show the viewer what they’re thinking) don’t help at all.

The film doesn’t even stay with Lambert at the end, instead going with Andie MacDowell. MacDowell’s performance is poor, even with the obvious hurdle–the poorly synced dub by Glenn Close–because it’s clear MacDowell isn’t taking the film’s events seriously. Occasionally, when she’s silent and looking around, she’s fine. But mostly she’s just bad.

Lambert is good. He isn’t silly in the jungle scenes and he’s genuinely effecting in the civilization half. Some of it comes from his lack of affected accent–and lack of dialogue–but I was pleasantly surprised with his performance. It’s too bad he doesn’t get to be the main character. Again, whatever.

The film is long, though the jungle scenes are really well paced, and rather jejune. Even with Richardson’s good performance, it only goes so far. If the script is repetitive, Hudson is obvious and the combination leads to a rather unrewarding experience.

Given the film has quite a few excellent scenes, it’s a strange it isn’t a cohesive experience. Hudson doesn’t bring much unified vision to it though and that lack might be the missing glue. The film’s last scene looks entirely different from any of the previous scenes, which makes the conclusion disconnect even more.

But with John Alcott’s photography, John Scott’s score, the wonderful Rick Baker ape make-up… it should have worked.

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Directed by Hugh Hudson; screenplay by Robert Towne and Michael Austin, based on a novel by Edgar Rice Burroughs; director of photography, John Alcott; edited by Anne V. Coates; music by John Scott; production designer, Stuart Craig; produced by Stanley S. Canter and Hudson; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Ralph Richardson (The Sixth Earl of Greystoke), Ian Holm (Capitaine Phillippe D’Arnot), James Fox (Lord Charles Esker), Christopher Lambert (John Clayton), Andie MacDowell (Miss Jane Porter), Cheryl Campbell (Lady Alice Clayton), Ian Charleson (Jeffson Brown), Nigel Davenport (Major Jack Downing), Nicholas Farrell (Sir Hugh Belcher), Paul Geoffrey (Lord John Clayton), Richard Griffiths (Captain Billings), Hilton McRae (Willy), David Suchet (Buller) and John Wells (Sir Evelyn Blount).


Highlander (1986, Russell Mulcahy)

Almost nothing in Highlander works. There’s the maniac driving scene at the end, that one works pretty well–with the exception of the unrelated car crashes cut in. In that scene, Clancy Brown really embraces the absurdity of his role and Russell Mulcahy shoots Roxanne Hart so well, she can’t help but be good (to be fair, all she has to do is scream). There are also some good transitions (the fish tank and the Mona Lisa fade). Michael Kamen’s score has its high points (though he recycled a lot of it in Die Hard), the Queen music’s good.

But otherwise?

It’s an incompetent mess. The script’s a joke–the kind of thing a bunch of twelve year-old boys would come up with. Even if there were good moments in the script, someone would ruin them. Mulcahy cannot convey a narrative. He’s a beautiful director, but his use of wide angle, perception-distorting lenses is silly. Lots of Highlander looks like great montage shots, except they’re used in continuous action instead. Hart’s bad. Christopher Lambert’s performance is astounding. His subsequent career–not to mention his fan base–is inexplicable. And the way Mulcahy directs him? Highlander could play as a comedy, if it weren’t so well-lighted by cinematographer Gerry Fisher. Peter Honess’s editing is also sublime.

Some credit has to be given to the production for its ability to overlook its own stupidity. Nothing in the film–down to the impromptu homophobia, the chatty skid row motel clerk or the survivalist (who cruises Manhattan looking for trouble)–is ever insincere. The filmmakers really think they’re producing quality product here. It’s just too humorless for them to think otherwise.

Highlander suffers from being a dumb idea, poorly written, then poorly produced. I first saw Highlander, like most other people, on video (or maybe it was HBO… I think Highlander was an HBO hit). Maybe the movie’s just more suited for a nine year-old’s intellect (which does not explain why it gained a following of adults, of course), but it seems to just get more unimpressive with each viewing. I last saw it maybe eight years ago and was still a lot more impressed with the final sword fight. I don’t know what I was thinking, since there’s no suspense to it (Lambert never gets hit) and it’s really rather short.

With the possible exception of the Scottish clan battle at the beginning, the movie’s lack of epic scope is sort of surprising. The urban setting doesn’t lend itself, I suppose. This time, I made sure to watch the theatrical version, which is much less stupid than the director’s cut. Now, that thought’s scary… that Highlander could be even stupider.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Russell Mulcahy; screenplay by Gregory Widen, Peter Bellwood and Larry Ferguson, based on a story by Widen; director of photography, Gerry Fisher; edited by Peter Honess; music by Michael Kamen; production designer, Allan Cameron; produced by Peter S. Davis and William N. Panzer; released by 20th Century Fox.

Starring Christopher Lambert (Connor MacLeod), Roxanne Hart (Brenda J. Wyatt), Clancy Brown (Victor Kruger), Sean Connery (Juan Sanchez Villa-Lobos Ramirez), Beatie Edney (Heather MacLeod), Alan North (Lieutenant Frank Moran), Jon Polito (Det. Walter Bedsoe), Sheila Gish (Rachel Ellenstein) and Hugh Quarshie (Sunda Kastagir).


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