Friday, May 16, 2014

Movie #254: Highlander

Highlander is a 1986 modern fantasy movie starring Christopher Lambert, Roxanne Hart, Clancy Brown, and Sean Connery. Chances are if you're reading this blog, you have seen Highlander and are already mentally making the "there can be only one...good movie" joke. Don't worry, I don't own any of the sequels.

Lambert plays Connor MacCleod, a Scot born in the 16th century who discovers, after being rudely stabbed in the stomach during one of those delightful clan skirmishes that my ancestral countrymen were apparently so fond of, that he can't die. He is quickly driven out of his village for being demonic, because it never occurs to his family that "holy shit, it's a miracle! Praise God!" as an acceptable response to someone quickly recovering from a wound, and hooks up with Ramirez (Connery), a Spanish Egyptian metallurgist and fellow immortal. Turns out immortals can die, if beheaded, and when two immortals meet, they either make friends or attempt to kill each other. And someday in the future, the few of us who remain will gather in some far-off place and fight until the last. Last man standing gets the Prize!

Intercut with all this, we get Connor's life in modern-day New York, where (as of the beginning of the movie) only four immortals remain, and Connor whacks one in the first scene. One of them is the Kurgan (Brown), a massive, evil immortal who killed Ramirez, raped Connor's wife, and has just generally been a shit all the way down.

So. The movie's premise is kinda ludicrous, but also pretty original. The mythology of the immortals is developed to the extent that it needs to be, and while the metaphysics and "rules" are never really explored, they're hinted at (immortals seem to "freeze" at the age where they first died, though it's hard to know if Ramirez has gradually aged over the centuries). The acting is generally pretty good. Brown plays Kurgan with evil glee, and Connery falls effortlessly into "kickass mentor" role (which he'd do again in Untouchables). Lambert is suitably brooding as Connor, but the flashback scenes make it obvious that he hasn't always been quite so serious, and it helps put him in context.

Roxanne Hart plays Brenda, a forensic investigator who figures out what's going on and, naturally, bangs Connor. She's our POV character, and I kind of feel like she's unnecessary, especially since there's this weirdly creepy vibe from Connor about her. That said, the movie spends a not-inconsiderable amount of time on her and her perspective, she takes some action and some agency for herself, and she clearly has non-man-related interests (she's serious about her academics), so I can't bring myself to call her Girlfriend.

I think this movie works pretty well for a number of reasons. The POV isn't limited; we get the cops, the city, the ongoing investigation of the "Head Hunter" (actually just the Gathering happening in NYC), as well as Connor's story. The supporting cast is pretty well realized, with the exception of Kurgan. He's fun to hate, and Brown plays him well, but I don't have any sense of why he's such a bastard (apart from a throwaway line from Ramirez about how the Kurgans used to torture their children). Some depth for the villain is nice. Also, I have no idea why they cast Connery apart from "holy shit, Sean Connery." For one thing, he can't pass as Egyptian or Spanish, and listening to him say anything in Spanish ("Now, pen-day-ho...") is painful. He plays the role well, but the role doesn't suit him, and it would have been a good place to get a non-white-guy into the cast.

Oh, shit, almost forgot the music! Queen did the soundtrack, meaning we get such gems as "Who Wants to Live Forever," "Princes of the Universe," "Gimme the Prize," and "Hammer to Fall" in the movie. The music is amazing and so 80s it hurts, but it's a good hurt.

They're remaking Highlander, of course, and I have the same opinion of remakes as I always do: Nothing is sacred, so go ahead, but understand that it's highly unlikely to catch lightning in a bottle twice. That said, if they cast Oded Fehr as Ramirez, I'd be in, no questions asked.

My grade: B+
Rewatch value: Medium-high

Next up: History of the World, Part 1