Highlander (review)

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Dead Heads

I plan to live forever or die trying. It’d be pretty cool to be immortal. At the very least, you’d get to learn how it all turns out in the end. I mean, the universe: Is it a comedy, or a tragedy? We’ll only know at the very end.

Connor MacLeod (Christopher Lambert: Highlander: Endgame) gets a chance to find out. Fighting for Clan MacLeod, in the blue tartans, in the Highlands of Scotland in 1536, he’s killed… and returns to life after his funeral. Cut to New York City in 1986, where the same Connor MacLeod is “Russell Nash,” an antiques dealer who, hello, beheads other immortals when he encounters them, as is required by their “game.” But one headless immortal-no-longer captures the attention of the police, and while “Nash” dodges the law in the 20th century, we follow the story of his death as a mortal and rebirth as an immortal in the 16th century.
Directed by schlockmeister Russell Mulcahy (On the Beach), Highlander ain’t Braveheart, but it has its own cheesy charm. Darkly stylish, it cops a feel off The Terminator, with lots of electrical energy literally charging the atmosphere, as the immortal lifeforce the losers of sword duels give off is sucked up by the victor (but not before breaking every window in the vicinity). Connor, in 1986 NYC, is hunted by Kurgan (Clancy Brown: The Hurricane, Starship Troopers), the “strongest of all the immortals,” the warlord who “killed” Connor back in 1536 turned punk menace in the 20th century. Like Sarah Connor was to the Terminator, Connor MacLeod is a threat to Kurgan by his mere existence, and Kurgan is just as bad-ass and seemingly unstoppable as the cyborg. The threat? The immortals are being drawn together in “the gathering,” from which only one will emerge victorious — and alive — to win “the prize.” Kurgan is determined to be the winner.

Lambert doesn’t have to act much (thank God), just look good… or unshaven and sullen, as the case may be. He’s not too bad as long as he doesn’t open his mouth, because when he does, we’re subjected to the spectacle of his abomination of a Scots accent, more than merely tinged with his native French. And to make matters cheesily worse, Highlander features Sean Connery (Entrapment, The Hunt for Red October) as Juan Ramirez, a 2000-year-old immortal who, in his unexplained capacity as an emissary of King of Spain, becomes Obi-Wan to Connor’s Luke in 16th-century Scotland, training him in the ways of immortals. The Scottish Connery, as a Spaniard (who also mysteriously calls himself Egyptian), doesn’t even bother to attempt a Spanish accent, so I suppose Lambert deserves kudos for even trying.

For all that it’s mostly silly fun, Highlander does contain a few touches of pathos, hinting at the loneliness of immortals, doomed to forever watch friends and lovers grow old and die while they remain unchanged through centuries. Memories of Connor’s early marriage to bonnie lass Heather (Beatie Edney) will haunt him down to the 20th century — the whole immortality thing kinda changes the meaning of the “till death do us part” bit. But even more touching is his relationship with Rachel Ellenstein (Sheila Gish), whom Connor rescued, when she was a small child, amidst a WWII battlefield and raised as his daughter. In just a few small scenes, Lambert and Gish create a unique relationship of deep love, respect, and understanding of each other.

But that’s a tiny part of the cheap diversion that is Highlander. Clancy Brown stalks and growls his way through the film while pseudo-deep Queen songs howl over the soundtrack. Police forensics expert Brenda Wyatt (Roxanne Hart), dallying with the prime suspect in that beheading murder, has sex with Connor, and screams a lot… not due to his talents as a lover but when she’s playing the Lois Lane part, held hostage by Kurgan to draw Connor out. Connor maintains a perpetual two-day growth of beard (must be an immortal talent) as he hangs out around his cool downtown loft. It figures immortals would be downtown kinda guys.

This is a bad, bad movie that I really, really like. And I’m not embarrassed to say so.

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