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Film review: Highlander II: The Quickening

Film features plenty of action, wild stunts, lame comedy.

Published: Wednesday, Nov. 6 1991 12:00 a.m. MST

"Highlander" is another example of a movie that flopped in American theaters but became an unexpected hit on video.

Naturally, due to its ancillary success, "Highlander II" was inevitable — and here it is, again starring Christopher Lambert in the lead and Sean Connery in an extended cameo (for which he was no doubt handsomely paid). Music video veteran Russell Mulcahy also returns as director.

But there is a fundamental difference between the first film's plot and that of its followup:

"Highlander" was a sword-and-sorcery picture, flashing back and forth between 16th-century Scotland and modern-day Manhattan, with a story that was sort of "The Terminator" in reverse. An immortal hero (Lambert) learns the ways of a warrior from his immortal mentor (Connery) in medieval Scotland, then does battle with an immortal villain in '80s New York. Their immortality is never adequately explained, but they can be killed only by decapitation. And at the end, Connery was dead and Lambert had become mortal.

"Highlander II," however, is a science fiction epic, explaining that these guys hail from a distant planet called Zeist, where they were mortal. Then, like another popular superhero we could name, once they got to Earth, they became immortal.

Oh, well, any old explanation in a storm.

As "Highlander II: The Quickening" opens, it is the near future and Lambert has come up with a solution to the problem of the depleting ozone layer — he covers the entire Earth with a giant shield. Before the credits are over it's 40 years later, Lambert is elderly and the city resembles burned-out burgs in a dozen other futuristic films, from "Escape From New York" to "Total Recall."

For our benefit, Lambert has a flashback to Zeist, hundreds of years earlier. The planet is even more bleak than Earth, especially with nasty Michael Ironside in charge, and Lambert and Connery fail in an attempted coup and find themselves sentenced to a fate worse than death — life on Earth.

As we go back to the future, Lambert is content to let old age take its toll, but Ironside has other plans. He sends a pair of wild-eyed slapstick killers to do him in. Instead, of course, Lambert decapitates the two hitmen, causing their life energy to make him young and, once again, immortal. Why Ironside didn't just let Lambert die of old age is never explained.

There are subplots about Connery being resurrected to aid Lambert for awhile, about the corrupt company that operates the shield and about environmental terrorists who want to tear the shield down. The latter are led by Virginia Madsen, who starts out as a strong, independent character but before long is simply clinging to Lambert.

But, let's face it, this movie is really about only one thing — explosions. Cars blow up, buildings blow up, whole neighborhoods blow up. And then there are explosions that build upon other explosions.

In short, lots of action and wild stunts, lame comedy (Ironside's villain is so zany he must have watched Alan Rickman in "Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves") and a story that makes no sense whatsoever.

If that description fascinates you, enjoy.

"Highlander II: The Quickening" is rated R for considerable mayhem and profanity.