Toward the opening of "Highlander," Nash (Christopher Lambert), a SoHo antiques dealer fresh from the wrestling matches, is accosted in the garage of Madison Square Garden by an assailant with a broadsword. Nash unsheaths his own broadsword and, after some struggle, lops off his assailant's head, unleashing an electrical storm that blows the windows out of every car in the lot.

Obviously, he's neither Nash nor Mad Man Muntz, but MacLeod, a 500-year-old Scot -- but spry for all that, one of a handful of immortals roaming the Earth. You can kill one of these immortals by chopping his head off, which is exactly what they set about doing to each other, till only one is left. If that one is a snarly fellow called The Kargan, however, darkness will descend on the Earth.

The outline of the story is the same as "The Terminator" (the time travel is just in a different direction), but that only reminds you of how clean the dramatic lines of that movie were. Here, the script (by Gregory Widen) is profoundly derivative, poorly structured and jokey in a dull way. And in the place of "The Terminator's" sure visual panache, Russell Mulcahy has directed at a perpetual scream. The camera style is grotesquely overwrought, a relentless exercise in technique for technique's sake. It's all here, folks: fancy wipes, expressionistic angles, quick-cut close-ups, stylized backlighting, camera moving in endless illogic. It's as if a 15-minute history of film technique had been compiled by a psychotic.

The movie's music seesaws crazily from the conventionally mushy score of Michael Kamen to the slashing (but no better) heavy metal music of Queen. As MacLeod's gnomic mentor, Sean Connery is not quite the actor Yoda was, although he is taller. And the fey, cartoon-faced Lambert is no action hero -- he's much more believable as an antiques dealer. A French actor, he essays English with a Scottish tinge, and winds up sounding like Zbigniew Brzezinski.

Highlander, at area theaters, is rated R and contains graphic violence and profanity.