THE SWORDSMAN is an only-on-VHS Lorenzo Lamas joint from 1992. Coming two years after the end of Falcon Crest (for which Lamas was the only actor to appear in all 227 episodes), this was a particularly productive period for the actor and Taekwondo and karate black belt. His other films released that year were FINAL IMPACT, SNAKE EATER III… HIS LAW and CIA CODE NAME: ALEXA.
I’ve only seen one of those, but I bet none of them open with text about a king in ancient Greece:
“2300 YEARS AGO ALEXANDER THE GREAT INHERITED A LEGENDARY SWORD BLESSED BY APOLLO. WITH THIS SWORD HE FELT INVINCIBLE AND LED HIS TROOPS INTO BATTLE CONQUERING THE KNOWN WORLD. UPON HIS DEATH, ALEXANDER HAD THE LEGENDARY SWORD BURIED WITH HIM AS HE BELIEVED HE WOULD RISE AGAIN.”
Lorenzo Lamas plays Andrew, a cool long-haired homicide detective who has psychic visions when he touches blood and in his spare time dreams images of himself in a robe looking at old statues and swords and fighting a guy with a hood hiding his face. Then he’ll wake up, add a sketch to his dream journal, and tie his hair into a ponytail.
Andrew has a comic relief partner named Leo (Frank Crudele, BLACKJACK, STEP UP ALL IN, one episode of Highlander: The Series) and a therapist (Michael Copeman, THUNDERGROUND, SCANNERS III, UNIVERSAL SOLDIER II, six episodes of Highlander: The Raven including the pilot) who you can tell is kind of a cool ex-hippie type because he has grey hair but wears a colorful Hawaiian shirt and is into experimental therapies.
One day on a case they find a guy who’s been stabbed, and when Andrew’s hand touches the blood he starts to convulse and have images of his future.
1) the priceless sword she’s been waiting for is not in the crate
2) there’s a dead body
3) the guys who did it, including a scary guy named Jojo (Raoul Trujillo, HIGHLANDER: THE FINAL DIMENSION), are still nearby in their diaper service truck
But she gets away. Because Andrew is in the doghouse for being a psychic all the time, the captain (Eugene Clark, who I should’ve recognized as “Big Daddy,” the lead zombie from LAND OF THE DEAD!) puts him on babysit-the-sword-expert duty. This angers him even though they have interests in common – did I mention that in his spare time he wins a fencing competition and gets an invitation and business card from a mysterious trenchcoat man named Stratos (Michael Champion, BEVERLY HILLS COP, PINK CADILLAC, TOTAL RECALL, TOY SOLDIERS)?
At first Andrew and Julie don’t get along at all, and she tries to drive off without him, but he explains “I didn’t ask for this. I got assigned to this because I fucked up on another job.” She laughs and it endears him to her and she lets him drive her to her business meeting at a mansion while sexy saxophone music plays.
One uncomfortable thing that happens while he’s watching her is she finds him on her back porch in his underwear asleep and having a nightmare. It’s revealing not only because she sees his deep psychological turmoil and tattoos, but because his past-the-shoulders hair is down. I think the ponytail looks way less ridiculous, but some women loved a Fabio type back then, and Julie is apparently one of them. Poor lady gets some good romantic humpin from him, but also lots of drama, including the police-investigation-is-going-bad-cold-shoulder, the jealous-because-you’re-talking-to-Stratos bitchiness, a late night dream convulsion that leaves her in tears, and a traumatic experience where he actually dies and almost doesn’t respond to CPR after his therapist administers an experimental drug to help him enter his visions.
When Andrew draws Julie a picture of the sword from his dream and it matches the Alexander the Great sword that only she knows about that was stolen, she starts to believe his mystical dream business. In fact, she tries to convince him that he’s the reincarnation of Alexander, which he’s skeptical about.
He starts following the dream clues and decides to go to Stratos’ invite-only fencing club, which I’m sure you will be straight up flabbergasted to learn involves a to-the-death competition in front of mildly amused rich people. He competes but is able to get away with kicking a guy unconscious because they don’t technically have to kill the guy to win, they just usually do. And he ends up at various parties with Stratos walking around carrying a drink, having loaded conversations. At a yacht party he sees some guys throwing a body overboard. He yells “Hey!” and runs over but the guys are gone. Oh well.
One scene I didn’t totally understand is when Andrew goes to ask Stratos about fighting and he makes him wait because he’s at a grave mourning someone. I really like it if that was supposed to be the grave of the swordsman he just had killed, but I’m not sure that’s what it is. Andrew asks him what happened to the guy who lost the match last night and he says, “Oh, I don’t know, it’s not important.”
So much happens that I forgot about Andrew getting psychic visions from touching blood, but when he gets wounded in a match and touches his own blood he gets to see some of the same dream shit he’s been seeing from the beginning. It always seems to give him ideas, though.
The tournament aspect kind of gets dumped when Andrew knocks the little wooden pieces representing each of the fighters off of their hooks and says to Jojo, “Forget these preliminaries, I want you. Whoever walks away gets the sword.” Jojo looks at Stratos, who thinks about it for a second, then nods. Okay, cool, but this is very unfair to a couple other competitors. Yet another reason why this tournament is not officially sanctioned by the sports commission or whatever.
THE SWORDSMAN is written and directed by Canadian filmmaker Michael Kennedy, who followed it with a much more entertaining Jalal Merhi/Billy Blanks buddy movie called TALONS OF THE EAGLE. Around this time he was also directing the filmed segments for The Kids in the Hall! I wonder if those kids gave him shit about his Lorenzo Lamas movie.
Three years later there was a sequel called GLADIATOR COP, a.k.a. GLADIATOR COP: THE SWORDSMAN II, which actually is available on the high tech format of DVD. It would be cool if GLADIATOR COP was a sequel to Ridley Scott’s GLADIATOR, just as SCANNER COP is a sequel to David Cronenberg’s SCANNERS, but if you study it carefully you can tell it’s more related to THE SWORDSMAN. Andrew is back, Julie is back, Leo is back, the captain is back, the sword is back, the gloomy, lugubrious style is back. I’m sure they figured you could watch it without knowing it was a sequel. It doesn’t really play like a sequel – it doesn’t take any pains to make anything different or to catch us up on what already happened, it just assumes we know or, more likely, don’t care.
This time the evil rich guy is Chris Kilos (George Touliatos, RED SCORPION 2, COSMOPOLIS), who apparently is in the first movie, maybe managing a fighter or something? Now he’s the director of the museum where Julie is the curator, and he turns the security system off so his goons can steal Alexander the Great’s sword and make his fighter Jodar (Christopher Lee Clements, JUNGLEGROUND) invincible so he can win bets on underground fights.
There seem to be a ton of these fight circuits in this town – part 1’s people who wear all black and have extreme fencing matches were only the tip of the iceberg. This time they make it more interesting by varying the locations (mostly parking garages, though) and involving lots of big dudes with executioner masks and novelty oversized weapons and shit. Also Kilos carries around a box with a metal-plated skull in it which in at least one case is hit with a hammer to be used as the bell.
Julie calls Andrew about the sword being stolen, and it’s so romantic. She’s wearing a baggy button up shirt with no pants. Andrew is shirtless, writing in his dream journal.
JULIE: It’s Julie. Somebody stole the sword last night. We should get together.
ANDREW: Wait for me out front. (Puts gum in mouth.)
From the way she smiles I think they haven’t been together in a while and she’s excited at the prospect of getting back together with him, even if it’s just to sneak into the morgue and touch wounds to have psychic visions about guys sword fighting. But he’s cold to her again. After she goes on TV to offer a reward for the return of the sword he goes and pounds on her door at night, walks in and lectures her about it being “not wise,” sighs and says “No more publicity stunts, all right?”
“Fine,” she says.
“Good night.” And he just walks out! Was this worth driving over for?
He was right though, because while it was broadcast we saw Jodar watching a TV surrounded ritualistically in candles and touching the tip of his sword to her lips on the screen. Icky.
So Andrew is watching after Julie again, and having Leo fill in for him when he gets called to (off the books) touch some more blood and have more visions. He comes to her house with his luggage, says “If you need anything, uh, just give a holler,” as she goes up the stairs to go to bed. He locks the doors, turns off the lights… cut to him in his bikini underwear asleep next to her on the bed. But he’s having a past life nightmare again so the way it’s edited it doesn’t play like a “Ha ha, they ended up fucking” smash cut joke.
By the way, this is the rare action movie that takes place around Halloween time. But I only know that because of this shot. So it probly won’t become part of my regular October viewing regimen.
The story is kind of a rehash, but instead of Andrew entering the circuit to go undercover he doesn’t get involved in any fights until near the end when they force him to. Therefore there are long stretches where he’s not even in the movie. For example, there’s a whole thing where Kilos, calling himself “Mr. Renee,” picks up a woman (Heather Gillan as “Attractive Escort,” I think?) in his limo, lets her fondle the (wait a minute, clearly fake) money in his briefcase and gives her a bundle for a blowjob. Then he brings her to a parking garage to watch the fights, but when she realizes they’re death matches she tries to run away, gets chased by a henchman, stabs him with his own knife, all while Jodar wins a second death match and a mysterious high roller (James Hong, not long after THE SHADOW) watches curiously and says, “He’s not the owner of the sword.”
When the cops show up everybody flees, and Hong’s character calls Kilos in his limo to demand that Jodar face his fighter, Mongol (Garry Robbins, HUMONGOUS, TC 2000, WRONG TURN). Then the attractive escort tearfully tells the police all she knows about “Mr. Renee.”
Andrew was out of the movie for more than ten minutes as the shit went down, now he’s fucking on the floor.
The final round of matches take place in a warehouse with a chain link cage around a cement floor. A ninja fights a guy who doesn’t take off his sunglasses until well into the match. There’s a crude picture of a sword spray-painted on the ground and a metal panel that they open up to dump the dead bodies in. My favorite unexpected thing that happens here is they keep cutting to a character just credited as “muscle woman” (Astrid Falconi, a “T&A Cheerleader” in SCREWBALLS who by 1991 had become Canadian national heavyweight and overall bodybuilding champion) while Jodar fights a character credited as The Mask (not Jim Carrey – a guy named Rich Stadnyk).
I wondered why they kept showing her, and then it cuts straight from the match to her in a nightie riding Jodar and flexing for him.
I don’t want to alarm anybody, but it turns out James Hong’s character is actually the reincarnation of Parmenion, a real historical figure who was executed for revolting against Alexander the Great, and he’s trying to get Andrew the sword to turn him into Alexander for avengement purposes. You will no doubt be very surprised to learn that Andrew gets the call to come fight while he’s making out with Julie and at first it seems like he’s gonna ignore it but then he interrupts the lovin to pick up the phone and answer it by saying “Yeah.”
In the end, when Parmenion’s plan doesn’t work out (SPOILER), he says “Aaaaaaa, you have won again, Alexander. Perhaps we will meet again at another time. Farewell, my king,” and fades away like a ghost! I didn’t really see that coming. Pretty good sportsmanship, too.
I like how swaggery the movie is about fizzling out. Like the first one it just shows some flashes of Lamas as Alexander, as if that’s really deep, but also the guitar noodling over tense keyboards comes in, it dissolves to a glory shot of the sword, and then it re-uses the dramatic title logo animation from the opening credits. Good shit.
Unfortunately these movies are not as exciting as I’d hoped. This one is probly a little better than the first, due mainly to the more colorful opponents. The first one just has guys in black leotards and fencing masks, the sequel has guys like this:
So there are a few smiles. This time it’s directed by the editor of the first film, Nick Rotundo, who also cut HUMONGOUS, PROM NIGHT II–III, BALANCE OF POWER and many others. His only other film as a director is the Daniel Bernhardt movie G-2, a.k.a. MORTAL CONQUEST (1999). Here’s the summary on IMDb:
“Deep in the mind of Steven Colin (Daniel Bernhardt) the secret of an ancient martial arts power lay dormant…In a former life, Colin wielded the forceful sword of Alexander the Great. Now in 2003, his enemies are back and are determined to seek the man who would be king and destroy him for all eternity.”
What in the– It even has James Hong playing the the reincarnation of Parmenion again, and Clements playing his fighter again! I don’t know if it’s a remake or if somebody told this guy that all movies are a variation on Alexander the Great’s sword possessing a guy or what. God damn it, do I have to watch that one too? I guess it looks a little more exciting than these two, a little more MORTAL KOMBATty. Sure, I’ll watch it, I guess. I just wish there was some other series of action movies that combined fantasy and swords with an urban action setting. Something of a higher quality. Something that lands in a higher–
Ah, fuck it. The truth is I don’t want to watch G2 right now. What I want to do is watch all of the HIGHLANDER movies and review them in great detail. So that’s what I’m gonna do. HIGHLANDERLAND – an outlawvern.com special presentation. Starting tomorrow. See you then.
VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.