There are a number of actors I’d like to see on the silver
screen again simply because of their untapped talent.  But there are others who deserve to be looked upon in a new light
because of their screen presence. 
Whether or not their acting is up to par is not the point; sometimes,
presence can go a long way.  Christopher
Lambert is the type of actor who can act circles around anyone (when he wants
to), while his screen presence oozes charisma and jet black humor.  He’s a rare breed indeed.

Greystroke: The Legend of Tarzan, Lord of the Apes.  Not a bad film to make your big screen
debut.  When the film was released back
in 1984, Lambert was a new face in the industry.  It was a success upon release and was nominated for a number of
Academy Awards.  While Lambert was great
as Tarzan, most of the attention wasn’t focused on him, which is weird when you
think about it.  That all changed with
the release of Highlander in 1986, the film that undoubtedly made him a household
name.  While the film spawned three
sequels and a television series, as is usually the case, the first was the best
and most successful.  Not to mention the
fact that the pairing of Lambert with Sean Connery made for some very
interesting chemistry on screen.  And
from there, Lambert started taking roles in films that… well, weren’t very

My fondest memory of Lambert was his performance in Fortress, a quintessentially bad 90’s film. 
It’s about a man and woman living in a dystopian future who are
expecting a second child and are thus thrown into prison because they broke the
strict one-child law made in order to sustain the dwindling economy of the
time.  It’s an outlandish story, even in
terms of cheesy 90s cinema.  But, for
whatever reason, Lambert sold the role and actually made you care about this
poor man’s dilemma.  Plus, watching him
fight the film’s villain played by Kurtwood Smith (Red from That 70’s Show
and the immortal Boddicker in Robocop) makes for a fun filled night.  The film falls flat, but Lambert stands

If you watch Lambert’s films from 1984 until 1995, you’ll
notice why he makes for such an interesting lead.  He’s got charisma and is clearly aware of the fact that his
characters aren’t really that well developed (Tarzan not withstanding).  It’s genuine charisma, the type that reveals
an actor who has an unmistakable love for the business.  He may not be the best, but he sure is
having a hell of a time when he’s on that screen. 

But there was always something else that intrigued me about
Lambert.  I couldn’t really put my
finger on it until recently.  When you
watch him, there’s something about the way his characters usually have a smirk
that sneaks onto their face.  It happens
so often and in so many movies that it can’t be a mistake.  Maybe I’m crazy, but it’s odd little quirks
that make me interested in an actor.  In
Lambert’s case, it’s as if he’s in on some secret joke; the kind in which the
punch line isn’t revealed until the film’s end.  After watching him in numerous movies over the years, I’m still
waiting for that punch line. 

Then in 1995, it happened. 
Lambert became a legitimate action star (if but for a little while) when
he portrayed Lord Raiden in the much-anticipated Mortal Kombat.  To this day, this is the best video
game-to-film adaptation yet.  Argue all
you want, but it’s the truth.  While the
Raiden in the videogame was a man of deep-rooted mystery, Lambert’s portrayal
of the character was one that made him an uber-god who liked to crack jokes and
heads in equal measure.  But the best
part about it all?  Lambert sold it
without a hitch, complete with that aforementioned self-deprecating humor.  That, to me, proves Lambert is a smart
actor.  He knew he couldn’t pull off the
intensely mysterious character that Raiden was in the videogame, so he
presented him the only way he knew how; with a little bit of seriousness and a
whole lot of humor. 

While he’s been in his fair share of cinematic farts over
the years, Lambert knew better than to return to the Raiden character for the
sequel Mortal Kombat: Annihilation and rightfully so.  The film was a dud.  For one, the filmmakers killed off Johnny
Cage within the first five minutes of the film.  Add to the fact that the Raiden character (played by the Dexter
Morgan’s father, no less) goes through some sort of mid-life crisis and gives
himself a buzz cut.  The Raiden in the
sequel acted completely out of character and Lambert made the right choice of
steering clear of that mess.

From there, Lambert was relegated to the direct-to-video
world of filmmaking, popping up from time to time in bit parts such as his
brief but totally welcome appearance in Southland Tales.  It’s a shame, really, that someone like
Lambert can’t break out of the mold that he created for himself.  But you have to give the man credit, he
knows his strengths and he stays within that limit.  The thing is, and I’ve said this before, the only way to
differentiate a good actor from a great one is by who takes a greater risk.  Sure, you may fail.  But if you succeed there’s no predicting how
far you’ll go.  And that is a punch line
worth telling.