Rated R - Running Time: 1:27 - Released 9/1/00

The title "Endgame" bears a vague implication that this may be the final appearance of the Highlander series; however agreeable that notion may be, I wouldn't bet on it. I must admit I'm quite ignorant of the long running series, but from what I've read, this film disregards many major story elements established by the climaxes of its several prequels and therefore doesn't claim to be upholding any sense of chronology, so there could be more such films to come. This is unfortunate, because I'd really rather not have to sit through another one of these ponderous, self-reverential quasi-epics again.

Following (or not following) the story structure established by the original 1986 Highlander movie, which has led to several sequels and a short-lived TV series, Endgame resurrects the saga of some immortal Scotsmen, among them Connor MacLeod (Christopher Lambert), Duncan MacLeod (Adrian Paul), and Duncan's wife Kate (Lisa Barbuscia), who seem to be engaged in a killing game against Jacob Kell (Bruce Payne), with whom Connor has a grudge dating back to the 16th century. Jacob, who once was Connor's friend, had Connor's mother burned at the stake for witchcraft. While grieving over his scorched mother, Connor killed an unarmed priest who was approaching him from behind and whom he took for an assailant. This priest was Jacob's father figure, and the altercation led to the bad blood between the two men which has lasted until the present. The fact that they are immortal means that they can, and have been, killed over and over again through the centuries, but have "difficulty dying." They have remained enemies just as Connor and Duncan have remained friends. (It is not made clear whether Connor and Duncan are brothers, cousins, or simply two guys from Scotland with the same last name; I'm sure devotees of the series know their true relationship.)

This film, directed by Douglas Aarniokoski and written by Joel Soisson, based on a story by Gillian Horvath and long-time Highlander writer Bill Panzer, is about as muddled as it could be. A dazzlingly confusing mishmash of earnestly-filmed period scenes, yawningly choreographed modern-day kung fu/machine gun combat, and good old-fashioned Braveheart-style Scottish swordplay, it jumps relentlessly back and forth between the present time and every century in between, giving us an idea of the various conflicts that have shaped the relationship between all the above named characters. I'm sure Highlander fans will get more out of it than I did; however, for one who is not familiar with the series, I daresay it is indistinguishable from a really bad dream, where things make sense only in the immediate context of the present scene. Director Aarniokoski should have put forth more effort to make the film newcomer-friendly. Although the many period scenes are generally well shot and well-accoutered, the acting is rather spotty, featuring an aging, tired-of-this-part Lambert looking like Phil Hartman and sounding like Tom Waits, and a youthfully rugged Paul providing adequate energy in his well-worn role. Between Payne's Bond-villain style overacting and Barbuscia's inability to read a line convincingly, they stink up every scene they're in.

Thanks to its motley collection of story elements, settings, and acting styles, leaving this film is like getting off an amusement park ride you never wanted on in the first place: you're tired, confused, a little sickish, and several parts of your body ache. And you're not sure what that weird smell is. **½

Copyright 2000 by John R. McEwen and The Republican

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