'Leprechauns' Tries to Pack Too Much Into Its Irish Stew


What do you call a story trying to be a fantasy, a contemporary romance, a parable of Ireland's Catholic-Protestant conflict, "Braveheart," "Romeo and Juliet" and "Riverdance"?

An unfocused mess.

That describes NBC's shovel-it-in-and-hope-for-the-best "The Magical Legend of the Leprechauns" miniseries that is derivative of just about everything but "Judge Judy." Although awful, this Robert Halmi Sr. production will likely get a large November sweeps sampling Sunday night due to the network's misleading on-air sales pitches likening it to his infinitely better "Gulliver's Travels."

Nor is "Leprechauns" drawn specifically from a literary classic, unlike most other Halmi TV works. Instead, this violent merry-go-round of cliches is credited to Peter Barnes, who also wrote the scripts for Halmi's "Merlin," "Alice in Wonderland" and laughable "Noah's Ark," as well as (go figure) the Oscar-nominated screenplay for "Enchanted April."

You might call this story, directed by John Henderson, eclectic. New Yorker Jack Woods (Randy Quaid) arrives in Ireland and rents a quaint, thatched-roof cottage, which he discovers is inhabited by 2-foot leprechauns with pointy ears that would make Mike Tyson's mouth water. Their enemies are the snooty, over-confident troop fairies, and something like Mel Gibson vs. the Brits is in the air.

Jack soon has a little thing going with the beautiful Kathleen Fitzpatrick (Orla Brady). A continuity gap opens immediately as this unconvincing romance is awkwardly alternated with mounting tensions in the quasi-invisible realms of the Muldoon (Colm Meaney)-led leprechauns and fairies, presided over by King Boric (Roger Daltrey) and Queen Morag (Harriet Walter).

Just when you think this is an allegorical twist on conflict in modern Ireland, though, in comes a version of Shakespeare's Montagues and Capulets, replete with a party-crashing sequence, a fight to the death and a forbidden leprechaun-fairy romance en route to a possible date with poison.

But wait, back in the universe of Muldoon, aren't those Irish dancers tossing back their red tresses in a series of leprechaun hoe-downs, and isn't that the "Riverdance" score running through these unharmonious four hours?

Then just as you're expecting Michael Flatley, it's time again for the human side's growing attraction between Kathleen and Jack, which itself plays like folk lore because of Quaid being so badly miscast as a romantic lead.

Despite having some excellent British talent in the person of Walter, Zoe Wanamaker, Frank Finlay and Michael Williams, this is one mixed-up miniseries. You know there's a credibility problem when the young leprechaun and fairy lovers set off on a perilous climb up treacherous Moonstone Mountain, almost getting themselves killed, just so they can talk to Whoopi Goldberg.

* "The Magical Legend of the Leprechauns" airs at 9 p.m. Sunday and at 8 p.m. Monday on NBC. The network has rated it TV-PG (may not be suitable for young children).

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