"Legend" may turn out to be legendary, but not in the way the filmmakers intended. As a flight of fancy, it has the balletic grace of the goony bird, crashing on takeoff and spending the next 90 minutes in a fluttering tizzy on the ground.
Ridley Scott's whimsical pratfall, now at embarrassed area theaters, stars likable Tom Cruise and a ninnyish newcomer named Mia Sara (star of "Mia Sara, Mrs. Campbell," perchance?) in a kookaburra cross between "A Midsummer Night's Dream" and "The Black Cauldron," but haplessly devoid of a whit of charm. Nor is there a whit of wit. Scott has managed to stir up the loopiest flat-footed fantasy since John Boorman disgorged "Zardoz" lo these many movie years ago.
In some messily enchanted forest, back back back "before there was such a thing as time," according to the windy, dead-giveaway printed prologue, sprites and fairies and leprechauns and you-name-it spent their days dodging the evil forces of darkness, impersonated here by Tim Curry in more makeup than you could sink a stick in.
One naughty night the evil gremlins and goblins run riot and lop off the horn of one of the universe's two remaining unicorns. This plunges humanity -- which consists only of Cruise and Sara -- into a dreadful pout. Lady fair is captured by said beasties and Cruise stumbles absent-mindedly to the rescue, daring the dense fauna of the dread balding mountain in an attempt to restore balance and happiness to all of pixiekind. It's accomplished with oversized metal plates deployed like Frisbees.
What can one utter but an exasperated "ugh" unless, perhaps, a mortified "oy"? Director Scott, best known for "Alien" and those zingy Chanel No. 5 commercials, gets lost in his own forest during the first couple of scenes. Anyone would get lost in this art director's nightmare of lush, plush, flush decor. The production designer is Assheton Gorton, and brother, is this production ever designed. It's mythology calendar art turned into music video kitsch, a feckless exercise in icky excess.
The script, by William Hjortsberg, was clearly an afterthought. What the filmmakers concentrated on was filling the screen with flotsam. The air in this forest is so polluted with debris that it's a wonder the actors can see past their putty noses. Snowflakes, raindrops, bubbles, leaves, fluffballs, hollyhocks, Mallomars, Jujubes, Twinkies, Reeboks, Cuisinarts, kitchen sinks, the dandruff of the gods -- just about everything that can be tossed into the atmosphere swirls and bobs between the actors and the camera.
Cruise, wearing long hair that often flops into his face, and Sara, to whom no-smear black lipstick is eventually affixed, are usually photographed with bright shiny dewdrops glistening on their faces. This kingdom is so enchanted the people sweat baby oil. Others in the cast include the adorable but here unrecognizable Alice Playten, under heavy makeup as Blix, leader of the evil goblins; and the roguishly dependable veteran Billy Barty, who contributes one of the few authentic touches of impishness as Screwball, a hearty gnome.
Because what violence there is tends to be bloodless and innocuous, the film might be considered appropriate fare for children, but kiddies are bound to get restless waiting through the long opening ersatz-idyllic scenes for some sort of plot to get going. Talk of "a force, a presence" and the heavy population of Yoda look-alikes brings to mind a "Star Wars" imitation that never gets off the swampy mess of a planet where Luke Skywalker learned his p's and q's.
Indeed, when Darkness (Curry) strikes and the lights go out, the film is plunged into a stifling, claustrophobic funk from which not even the slavishly inevitable happy ending can rescue it. "Legend" manages to be both airlessly lugubrious and criminally cutesy-wutesy. It's a funeral procession consisting entirely of street mimes. movieag Legend, at area theaters, is rated PG for its mild, comic book violence.