Swords keep clanking, but third time for 'Highlander' is no charm

January 28, 1995|By Stephen Hunter | Stephen Hunter,Sun Film Critic

I'm a little late and it's already started and I'm thinking: Hey, they've really upgraded. Glorious photography of the Scottish hills. A huge cast representing the medieval armies of England and Scotland, sheathed in acres of clanking chain mail and carrying enough assault swords to start a revolution, or stop one. goodness, they've even replaced squirrelly little Christopher Lambert with . . . Mel Gibson?

Hmmmm. How come I didn't read about this in Premiere?

Of course, I'd bumbled into a preview of the beautiful-looking "Braveheart," Gibson's summer film about the English conquest of Scotland. Looks pretty good. Wish I were seeing it. But no, two minutes later, poor "Highlander: The Final Dimension" rolled along, with Lambert still in place and new recruit Mario Van Peebles masquerading as Ming the Merciless.

The best that can be said for it is that at least it's sensible. The original film postulated a race of "immortals," supercharged swordsmen who wandered the world with banzai blades and bad attitudes. Directed by Russell Mulcahy, and starring Lambert and Sean Connery, it was hyperactive, goofy, giddily enjoyable. A few years back, however, came "Highlander II," which can be summed up in one word: Nuts. Totally flaky screwball movie, filmed in Argentina, set in the future, never began to make an iota of sense. It wasn't even really continuous from what morsels of coherence remained from the first one.

So, to get to the good news, "Highlander: The Final Dimension" is a true sequel, set in the same world as "I," obeying the same rules, dealing with the same issues. Read all about it: "Highlander III" returns to its roots!

After his banishment from 16th-century Scotland, where his immortality was hatched (I can't remember how or why), Colin MacLeod (Lambert) wandered over to Japan, where he met up with a sorcerer but was attacked by an evil warlord named Kane (the Kung-Fu guy? No, appears not) who was also an immortal. For his trouble, big bad Kane got sealed up in the cave for 400 years. Now an archaeological project has freed him. He's back, and he wants MacLeod's head.

That's about it. The movie makes a great deal of effort to replicate Mulcahy's classier camera moves, and it resettles itself in debauched New York. It indulges in some of the original's campier tics: For example, it seems to be written in the sky that MacLeod can practice his swordsmanship only on cliffs overlooking seas, lochs or ruined castles. No gyms need apply. At least everyone seems to be having fun: Van Peebles -- playing Kane, of course -- hams it as if it's the last role he'll ever get.

A couple of items of bad news: The sword fighting could be

better. I mean, if you're going to have a movie of people dressed up like Mardi Gras swinging banzai swords at each other, could you not spend some money on a fight choreographer? When they go to blades, Van Peebles and Lambert look like the Tin Woodsman fighting himself.

Second: too much electricity. One can only assume the jazzy, crackling flickers of blue light that stand for raw electric current are a pretty cheap FX to manage, because this low budgeteer is literally aglow with them. It's like an attack of St. Elmo's Fire every three minutes or so! The movie was bright enough to read by.

"FINAL DIMENSION"

Starring Christopher Lambert and Mario Van Peebles

Directed by Andy Morahan

Released by Dimension

Rated R

... **

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