Highlander IV: Endgame
directed by Douglas Aarniokoski
(Dimension Films, 2000)

Remember all the hype about having Kirk and Picard sharing a screen in Star Trek: Generations? It was the moment when the original series passed the torch to the new, the final time we would see Kirk on screen -- a big event for fans and casual watchers alike. Never mind that the movie wasn't too great....

The Highlander franchise hoped to spark the same excitement with Highlander IV: Endgame, matching up the movie Highlander, Connor MacLeod (Christopher Lambert), with his television counterpart, Duncan MacLeod (Adrian Paul). These "pass the torch" movies usually have one goal in mind -- create a new franchise while trying to appease the old fans and send off the old guard in a big way. Unfortunately, this movie suffered by a severe lack of direction and support by the production crew.

The movie begins with Connor and his 16th-century wife Heather (from the first movie) learning that his mother is to be burned at the stake. He fails to save her and goes on a killing spree of revenge, taking out half the village and the priest who condemned her. His boyhood friend, Jacob, is the last to die. Or is he?

Jump forward 400 years, or to 10 years in our past, when Rachel, an old woman Connor had raised as his daughter, is killed in an explosion meant for him. That's followed by a bunch of gun-toting monks fighting a gang of immortals, who invade the mysterious Sanctuary and watch as their leader, Kell, slaughters another group of immortals imprisoned there -- supposedly protected on holy ground. Are you following all this? No? Join the crowd.

Now it's the present day, and Duncan finds his ex-wife Kate (played by Lisa Barbuscia) and the immortal gang in the ruins of Connor's home (untouched, apparently, in the 10 years since the explosion). Here the movie briefly shines with one of the better choreographed fight scenes I've seen in a while. But then things turn confusing after a battle between Duncan and Kell; Duncan is rescued/captured by the Watchers, who imprison him to keep him alive and, thus, prevent Kell from winning the immortal Prize (which, we now know, Connor didn't really win in the first film). Then Duncan is rescued again, this time by series favorites Methos (the oldest immortal) and renegade Watcher Joe Dawson. They meet up with Connor and we finally get to the meat of the story. Kell is Connor's old friend Jacob, who has racked up 600-plus immortal kills because he doesn't follow the rules. Kell, still bitter about that village incident, wants Connor to be the final immortal he faces.

That leads to a series of poorly transitioned flashbacks (which never specify when or where they occur) and action scenes leading up to the inevitable conclusion.

You now know all you need to know about this trainwreck of a film, so don't bother watching it. People expecting the flash and flair of the series will be sorely disappointed. There are so many problems that it's hard to keep track of them all. First, they're banking on the Connor and Duncan connection to put fans in the seats, forgetting that they've already met in the television series. Second, they assume everyone in the audience knows the background of all the supporting characters from both the series and films. Much of the background established for Duncan in the series is discarded along the way. Finally, editing apparently left more film on the cutting-room floor than it did in the actual movie, based on scenes in movie previews which didn't make it to the screen. (You can also spot where the cuts were made because of the jumpy transitions.)

The blame lies with both the bad script and first-time director Douglas Aarniokoski. The movie should have gone straight to video. Instead of developing a believable plot, Aarniokoski spends his time creating interesting spots to dazzle you. For example, try to follow the sequence of locations in the final fight between Duncan and Kell.

The movie does have its good points. Adrian Paul proves he's ready for the role as action hero -- he's charming, he looks good, he knows how to fight convincingly. If you can ignore the fact that the Duncan of the movie acts nothing like the Duncan of the series, you can enjoy his work here. Donnie Yen, one of Kell's henchmen, shows off his martial arts skill in the few battles he is in (he's made quite a few movies in Hong Kong), even if he looks like a poor producer's Jet Li. Lisa Barbuscia made a highly attractive female lead, and her scenes with Duncan had enough chemistry to pull off the bad storyline between them.

However, what little good is in the movie just doesn't make up for plot holes the size of 18-wheelers. Lambert seems as tired and bored with the whole Highlander idea as his character is of living forever. Neither Bruce Payne (Kell) nor the majority of his gang show much acting ability, either.

People who follow this film series go to great lengths to forget the second and third installments, and now they have good reason to forget the fourth. Unfortunately, this poor excuse for a sequel may kill the series for good, costing Paul his shot at the leading role.

Don't bother paying to see this movie. Don't even rent it. I'm so disgusted with the whole affair, I'm not even going to attempt a play on the famous "there can be only one" for a closer.

[ by Timothy Keene ]

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