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A Farewell to Charms
'Leprechauns': At the End of the Rainbow, a Pot of Fool's Gold

By Tom Shales
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, November 7, 1999; Page G01

Where are "Darby O'Gill and the Little People" now that we really need them? In fact, who'd have dreamed that we'd ever really need them? Actually, we don't, but the rackety-clackety 1959 Disney movie about leprechauns running amok looks pretty good now, at least as compared with "The Magical Legend of the Leprechauns," a mad monstrous lullaby airing tonight and tomorrow night on NBC.

If it seems odd to air a leprechaunical movie in November--months away from Saint Patrick's Day--we must remember that there's no such thing as the March Sweeps. November is a ratings sweeps month when those precious Nielsen numbers count more than usual (the other two big ones are February and May). Since tonight is the first prime-time Sunday of the last November Sweeps of the millennium, gasp, all the networks are hauling out big-gun programming in the hopes of scoring huge.

ABC has a new version of the Broadway musical "Annie," followed by the return of last summer's hit game show "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?" with Regis Philbin. CBS will be tempting viewers with a nostalgic spectacular called "Shake, Rattle & Roll." And what's on Fox? Perhaps "When Animals Attack People Who Have Been Run Over by Cars," or some other Grand Guignol "reality" special? No, nothing that momentous, but Fox will be airing the season premiere of "The X-Files," with the story picking up a cliffhanger months in the hanging.

On the surface--and it has a bright, lively surface--NBC's four-hour "Leprechauns," at 9 tonight and 8 tomorrow night on Channel 4, would seem happy daffy family entertainment. The production comes from some of those responsible for such past NBC sweeps smasheroos as "Merlin" and "The Odyssey," glittery and imaginative affairs liberally decorated with eye-teasing special effects.

Unfortunately, "Leprechauns" lacks certain key components that its predecessors--and most good movies--boasted. One of those would be a script. Another would be a story. And yet another would be a decent or even half-decent cast. "Leprechauns" is one of the gaudiest, noisiest voids in modern TV history. It's not a movie, it's a hangover, a whirlwind of meaningless motion featuring dozens and dozens of ghastly freakish imps.

For all the fairly persistent hullabaloo, there's a strangely tranquilizing tedium to the frenzy. You may feel your eyelids flutter and close, then pop open again as you try to jump-start your own battery. But then your head begins to bob, to nod, to slump forward, or to tilt sideways onto the shoulder of the nearest couchmate. To sleep, perchance to dream--preferably of something less relentlessly hideous than "The Magical Legend of the Leprechauns."

A kind of negative perfection is achieved, starting with the casting of Randy Quaid as the romantic leading man. Romantic? Leading? Oh, there's a dashing young devil for you. Randy Quaid! It appears to take all his energy to keep his face from falling into a sullen pained frown. He's awfully good in movies playing psychos or drunks, but as Jack Woods, friendly American Everyman, he is ridiculous and much too old.

As the film opens, not that it ever really does, Woods is arriving on a gorgeous train at some charming village in Ireland, which, over the course of the next four hours, will get steadily less charming until it achieves total charmlessness. Woods is renting a cabin for rest and relaxation, but right off we assume there's some sinister ulterior corporate motive in his visit. How many single men go off to Ireland to rent cottages by themselves?

Naturally he meets a lovely colleen, a sprightly broth of a frothy sprite named Kathleen, played with an off-putting emotional pallor by Orla Brady. The actress looks as if she's wondering what on Earth Quaid is doing there, too. But of course the main attraction is not their enervated love story but the leprechauns whom Woods finds occupying his cottage. They can appear or disappear with a spritz of glitter and a giggledy titter.

And not only are there leprechauns, there are also fairies. Yes, fairies, those darling fluttery creatures of the sky, who live on a big floating rock-castle that looks like a collaboration between Rene Magritte and--well, Rene Magritte and some idiot. Queen of the Fairies, officially billed as the Grand Banshee, is the inescapable Whoopi Goldberg, who can change herself into a bird and back again at the slightest inclination and for no apparent purpose.

Instead of having the leprechauns and fairies get involved in the lives of the human mortals on the premises, their adventures bumble along on rather a parallel and irrelevant plane. Essentially, they go to war. They stage huge battles in the grass that go on forever and ever and ever. They clobber one another with shillelaghs and occasionally go goldish and disappear. It's a sad thing to watch a leprechaun die, as they decompose rather slowly from toe to head in that order--thus making "Leprechauns" unfit for young children, in addition to being unfit for everyone else.

Yes, you will see strange and wondrous sights: a huge scary ogre made of fire, leprechauns riding sheep across idyllic meadows, a fairy princess sleeping in a big duck bed (just the thing for the next J. Peterman catalogue), metallic vapors, a swirling tornado, a fish that squirts people in the puss, an effete dandy arising incongruously from a pea-soup swamp, and enough Irish dancing to make even the most ardent aficionado of Irish dancing want to dive under the covers wearing earplugs and a blindfold until the whole ugly orgy blows over.

The war comes about apparently because of a Romeo-and-Juliet romance between a lovely lady fairy and a plucky handsome leprechaun. Meanwhile, one has a right to ask, amidst all this whimsy and goo, where, pray tell, are the pixies? You got your leprechauns, you got your fairies, but nary a pixie in sight. Perhaps if "Leprechauns" does well in the ratings, the producers will whip up a pixie flick in time for, say, the May Sweeps. "Ghastly possibility" seems much too mild a term for that. Even "noxious nightmare from the bowels of Hell" is a trifle understated.

Quaid is called upon to utter a banal bromide about the folly of war just before the leprechauns and fairies launch into hostilities. The real pity of this war, though, is that there aren't sufficient casualties.

Yes, and sadly, "The Magical Legend of the Leprechauns" has just the opposite effect from what its producers and the network no doubt desired; it makes you want to see leprechauns crushed by steamrollers, fairies flattened by nuclear warheads, and their cute adorable little old valley strip-mined to within an inch of its life. Or less.

© Copyright 1999 The Washington Post Company

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