After the absolute trip to WTF-ville that was Highlander 2 I kind of felt the franchise had scraped rock bottom and I didn’t think anything could ever be as bad as that. I’m happy to report that Highlander 3: The Sorcerer is not only an improvement (obviously) but an incredible sequel that captures the magic of what made the first such a special film for me and, in my eyes, is on par with it. I know the second film has this big huge production history and that’s why it’s so weird, bad and off topic from the mythology, but for this one they have stripped away all that bullshit and distilled the story back down into what made the first Highlander so great. Christopher Lambert’s immortal Connor McLeod tells us of a new chapter in his ongoing life, wherein a Japanese mystic (Mako) trains him further in the ways of battle so that he can fight another remaining member of his race of beings, the evil Hun-like Kane (Mario Van Peebles). Their battle begins in 500ad or so and rages across time until Connor finds himself in 1990’s New Jersey where Kane follows him. Connor falls for a beautiful archeologist (the lovely Deborah Kara Unger) who is the reincarnation of a girl he knew during the French Revolution and circles a final battle with Kane which, naturally, is staged inside one of those classic ‘smoke and flame’ sheet metal factories that are utilized for showdowns in everything from T2 to Batman 89 and Roger Ebert loved to make fun of so much but try and tell me that in New Jersey there isn’t a large chance that a final fight would realistically end up in one of those buildings, I mean the place is only made of them. Mario Van Peebles is great as Kane, ditching his usual persona for a growling, leering, barbarian type of performance that pays dues to Clancy Brown’s Kurgan without outright aping him. He’s got magic illusion powers, snazzy tattoos, great taste in metal music and is so culturally hopeless in the 90’s that when a hooker gives him a condom he puts it in his mouth in puzzlement, immediately spits it out in distaste and just proceeds to raw-dog her. I’ve talked this film up and you gotta realize that it’s a ramshackle threequel to a cheesy 80’s cult classic that does its best to clean up after a totally irresponsible, ridiculously off the wall sequel and while I was sometimes utterly confused about the timelines or how this chronologically connects to the first, I though it did a pretty damn good job of salvaging tone, style and aesthetics and steering this canon in a serviceable direction. Lambert and Unger are adorable together and have not only a smouldering sex scene that might be among the hottest the 90’s has to offer but actual romantic chemistry to back it up. There is the obligatory helicopter shot of Lambert running and training amidst the gorgeous Scottish scenery that somehow manages to be silly as hell and deeply rousing in the same stroke, here set to a gorgeous Celtic song called Bonny Portmore by Loreena McKennitt. The finale battle between Connor and Kane is like a thunderous fireworks show of lovingly creaky 90’s FX and music that reaches a biblical crescendo and serves to reinforce that even when a franchise has seemingly reached its doldrums, a crowd pleaser like this can come along and shake out the cobwebs. If you go into it cynical over the fact that it’s a Highlander sequel and keep your nose upturned on principle, well you’re only robbing yourself of a fun time, because to me this had everything I wanted from one of these flicks and was a hell of a lot of fun, capped off by a genuinely sweet ending that gives you the option to stop here and have this as the final note of Connor’s story, or continue on in the series for more adventures.
Los Angeles and New York City get a sordid, hard boiled pair of rogue cop stories in True Crime: Streets Of LA and True Crime: NYC, two badass, star studded, knockout crime games that demonstrate these days how they really don’t make em’ like they used to. I’d review these two separately but they’re a pretty intrinsic pair that feel like sibling stories despite being made and released two years apart.
In Streets Of LA you play as volatile renegade LAPD detective Nick Kang (Russell Wong having an utter blast with the dialogue) who is suspended from the force under shady circumstances and goes severely rogue with an unofficial vigilante unit to stop a corrupt plot against the city perpetrated by Russian mob, triads and others. This ones cool because it’s a choose your own adventure game where the outcome and chain of events is different depending on what choices you make Nick pick. There’s endless shootouts, brutal chase sequences across the LA highway overpass and vicious hand to hand combat too. Christopher Walken narrates the whole thing in Greek chorus mode as wisened ex-cop George and voiceovers are also provided by Ron Perlman as a Russian hood, Mako and James Hong as Triad bosses, Michael Madsen, Michelle Rodriguez, CCH Pounder and Gary Oldman as a both a dodgy federal agent and a psycho Russian boss.
Over in New York City you’re Detective Marcus Reed (Avery Kidd Waddell), an ex gangster who chose the law over the ways of his crime kingpin father Isiah (Laurence Fishburne basically reprises his kingpin role from Assault On Precinct 13) and is mentored on the streets by tough veteran Sergeant Terence Higgins (Mickey Rourke) until he’s murdered under mysterious circumstances. Marcus now has to shoot his way past criminals and cops alike as he smokes out a deep web of corruption and avenges those he lost while leaving a path of bodies behind him. There’s work from Esai Morales as his precinct captain, Traci Lords, Lester ‘Beetlejuice’ Green and more. Walken is in this again in full bonkers mode as a Fed who can’t stop getting sidetracked by anecdotal monologues about his life long enough to brief Marcus and provides much comic relief.
These two games have a terrifically gritty late 90’s street feel, the actors add a lot, the gameplay is violent and profane to the maximum and while LA is bright, energetic and hyperactive, NYC is dark, austere and bleak and they feel like two sides of the same unlawful coin. Great stuff.
Pacific Heights is one of those 90’s ‘yuppie thrillers’, in the best possible way. See stuff like Malice with Nicole Kidman or Disclosure with Demi Moore for reference and a jumping point for research into this time capsule of a sub genre. Heights is a wicked little domestic thriller, and the penultimate ‘tenant from hell’ film (barring Danny Devito’s Duplex, which wouldn’t be released for another decade or so). Matthew Modine and Melanie Griffith are the proud owners of a gorgeous San Francisco urban estate here, proud of their purchase, poised to dive into renovation and on the market for a tenant. It just so happens that affable, seemingly nice guy Michael Keaton is on the market for tenancy, and a few other nefarious things while he’s at it. This isn’t quite a psycho thriller though, it’s more like the moment he’s moved in, their lives turn into a waking nightmare full of noise issues, unauthorized self renovations, scams, thefts and all sorts of scumbag shit. The hilarious thing is, he somehow does all of this just inside the boundaries of the law so that Modine and Griffith are pretty much powerless to kick him out or take action. How do you deal with a scheming cockroach like that? Well you’ll see, but it’s great entertainment, and one of Keaton’s best villain roles because of how stoic and vague he is, it’s like this is all business to him and he’s just showing up at his 9 to 5 job that happens to be robbing landlords blind. Hans Zimmer does some of his best unconventional work here too, with a restless, jangly opening theme that introduces hilly San Fran and suggests the impending havoc Keaton is about to wreak on this poor young couple. A forgotten gem.
Philip Kaufman’s Rising Sun is a high profile murder mystery set atop lofty political echelons, but it’s less about the murder itself and more doggedly focused on the culture clash between American and Japanese business factions, as well as the two detectives caught up in the whole hectic, East-scraps-West mess. A lot to cover in one film, but this one keeps its head afloat and then some, with a whip smart script based on a novel by Jurassic Park architect Michael Crichton that was libelled as ‘Japan bashing’ (this was in the 90’s, imagine the snowflake storm it’d garner in our day). It apparently toned down some aspects, but either way, it’s not only a searing detective story, but one set against a backdrop of fascinating urban and metropolitan anthropology. Sean Connery bites into one hell of a role as John Connor (not a T-1000 in sight asking his whereabouts, they’re slacking), a veteran legend of a cop with deep ties to Japanese culture, having spent many years there, married to a Japanese woman as well. He’s partnered with Web Smith (Wesley Snipes), lively enough to poke fun at Connor’s guru-esque patronizing, but with enough of a head on his shoulders to adapt in waters that are anything but calm or familiar to him. Their case? On the eve of a giant mega deal between two corporations representing both soil, a mysterious prostitute is found murdered in a Japanese high rise. Laser disc footage may yield the killer’s visage, and may not. A super racist LAPD detective (Harvey Keitel, volatile and riled up) is anything but help. The suspects? A sleazy US senator (Ray Wise), a Japanese mystery man (Cary Hiroyuki-Tagawa) with one foot in business and the other, suggestively, in organized crime. The list goes on, and doubles back on itself multiple times. Not only is the investigation riveting, the buddy cop banter between Snipes and Connery, both funny and grounded, is just so engagingly well drawn, and tense inter-company espionage thrills throughout all the acts. The cast deepens, with fine work from Steve Buscemi, stern Daniel Von Bargen, Tamara Tunie, Stan Shaw, Mako, Kevin Anderson and gorgeous Tia Carerre as a quick witted tech expert who assists the dynamic duo in deciphering that pesky 90’s laser disc, and the incriminating secrets therein. Not your garden variety police procedural, buddy cop flick or social commentary, but rather unique variations on all three, amalgamated into a film that demands patience and focus, but rewards with a great story.