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.
Guardian falls squarely into the ‘ancient relic B flick’, a well worn path in which some obscure archaeological dig unearths a crazy evil that plagues everyone and causes a monumental ruckus, or in this one’s case, a laid back low budget ruckus. The incident here happened during the Gulf war, in which special forces badass Mario Van Peebles witnessed something escape a tomb, something that’s now reared it’s head years later in inner city LA, and he’s now a detective who has to deal with it, assisted by his partner (James Remar). The beauty of making your antagonist a shapeless, invisible identity that takes over human hosts and jumps from person to person is that special effects aren’t even required and you can stay within budget restrictions (I imagine that was on Gregory Hoblit’s mind for Fallen, and he was able to save a few bucks for the wicked cast he scored) which in this film’s case is a concern that was probably paramount, this is about as scantly funded as they get. It’s scrappy, atmospheric and works well enough for something like this. Remar is underused for the first half as the classic wise-ass sidekick, until the demon jumps into him and we get to see some of that classic Remar menace take the controls from Peebles’s moody cop, he’s a guy I never saw the point in having as your leading man, the necessary amount of charisma just isn’t there. This actually makes a great Remar/Peebles double feature with another obscure horror called Blowback, in which cop Mario is hunting down crazed serial killer James. I’ll get to that one eventually. Oh yeah, Ice T has a small role as a gangbanger here too, almost forgot about him.
Gunmen is one of those sleazy, inconsequential pieces of shizz you’ll find on TBS Superstation (I’m aware that channel’s shelf life expired over a decade ago) at like 2am, full of guns, tits, dust, sweat, double crossing and whatnot. It’s a fun one because sometimes I’ll bring it up in conversation and say “the one where Patrick Stewart is in a wheelchair” and people will be like “yeah, X Men”, and I’ll say “no the other one” with a straight face and watch how confused they look. Heh. It’s a Mario Van Peebles flick, an actor I could never get that excited about, but it’s also a Christopher Lambert flick too, a guy I’ve always inexplicably loved, like a scrappy lost puppy that just won’t go away. I don’t remember the plot so don’t even ask, I’ll just spark-note it in bullet points: guns. DEA. South America. Violence. Incomprehensible storyline. Shootouts. More guns. One thing that was cool was Denis Leary as a psychotic arms dealer, gunning down a ten year old girl’s parents in cold blood and than calmly reassuring her, “trust me kid, you’re better off without them.” Yeesh. He plays Armour O’Malley, lieutenant to drug baron Patrick Stewart, which leads to predictable bad blood, and so it goes. Peebles and Lambert are a DEA agent and a weirdo smuggler on the run from all the crazy dudes I just mentioned above. It’s trash though, and as I type I’m recalling a scene where Lambert is ploughing a chick in some whorehouse and she begs for more, but he sweatily laments in that horrendous accent of his, “there is no more!!”… Then two seconds later Peebles busts in and kidnaps him at gunpoint. You know your flick has abandoned plot for cheap thrills and gotten so stuck in B movie quicksand that not even AAA can snag you out when that happens. That’s about all I remember, I was way too stoned to soak in all the cheaply rendered exploitive excess when I watched it way back when, I wish you the best of luck though!!
If you ever want to see an entire film production embarrass themselves royally, check out Fist Of The North Star, a misguided, thoroughly awkward live action version of some obscure Japanese manga series. It’s one of those ones that painfully doesn’t translate into the realm of live action though, like that bizarre Super Mario movie they made. Full of notable character actors, packed with steampunk-esque special effects, it could have worked with a different story, but the theatrical intensity and specific vibe of oriental pop culture just doesn’t come to life well on the North American big screen. It’s also at war with itself tonally: there’s a light, PG Power Rangers feel in some places, but many scenes have graphic violence that pushes a hard R rating into the deep end, which makes for a jarring experience. Gary Daniels stars as Kenshiro, a lone warrior out to get Lord Shin (Costas Mandylor under one mess of a mullet), a brutal warlord who murdered his father, briefly played by Malcolm McDowell. McDowell pulls a classic McDowell move, showing up in the flesh for about thirty seconds before disappearing and lazily lending his iconic voice to a talking skeleton version of his character later in the movie. Don’t ask me to remember more of the plot than that because it would involve a rewatch, and ain’t nobody got time for that. Chris Penn is fun as Jackal, an angry vagabond with a giant potato head and the psychotic temper to match. Watch for Dante ‘Rufio’ Basco, Downtown Julie Brown, Clint Howard, Mario Van Peebles and more in equally ridiculous getups. The sole thing I can recommend here is the production design, lifted straight from some striking post apocalyptic video game, it makes somewhat of an impression. The rest lands with a colossal thud and just sits there, doing not much of anything.
Across The Line: The Exodus Of Charlie Wright is the very definition of overlooked. It was probably underfunded and squeaked forth through meager marketing a few years ago, neither of which has prevented it from triumphing as a sharp little sleeper flick that of course nobody saw. The central theme is age and regret, each character finding themselves at some sad crossroads, placed there by the decisions they’ve made in the past and the ways in which they have conducted themselves up to the final act of their lives. To observe people at such a stage haunts you as much as it does them, and made for a film that took a while to get out of my head. Aiden Quinn plays Charlie Wright, a billionaire financial genius whose empire has been exposed as nothing more than a pitiful ponzi scheme, right under his unwitting nose. He is in self imposed exile in Mexico, and soon the consequences rain down on him in the form of several different pursuers. A Mexican gangster (Andy Garcia) wants him, as well as a Russian (Elya Baskin) and his dodgy American representitive (Raymond J. Barry). The FBI has their sights on him as well, in the form of a weary looking Mario Van Peebles, sanctioned by the Director (Corbin Bernson). There’s also a trio of merceneries headed up by a dogged Luke Goss, Bokeem Woodbine and Gary Daniels who have been deployed south of the border to hunt him. It sounds like a bunch of commotion, but I found it to be a very reserved meditation on just how far people are willing to stand by their life choices when they see what’s become of the goals they had in mind when they made said choices in the first place. Quinn is the most understated, yet speaks the loudest as a man on the run from the world. Gina Gershon makes an emotional impact as a woman involved with Garcia, who is also great. South of the border intrigue. Ponderous introspect. A winning recipe.