TV critics bid `Leprechauns' the top of the morning


It's been a bad week for leprechauns here. A massive PR job by Bord Failte is now necessary to restore their battered image following their four-hour portrayal on a major TV network, NBC, which left the critics loathing the little people.

And not just TV critics but the respected editor of the Irish Voice newspaper, Niall O'Dowd, could hardly restrain himself. "After all the efforts that have been made over the past few years to try and educate Americans as to the real nature of Ireland and the Irish, NBC and Hallmark (which financed the film) pitch that image back into a cesspool of damaging stereotypes and ludicrous portrayals," Mr O'Dowd wrote. It is "a disgrace and an insult to all Irish."

The TV critics, who were well paid to watch the mini-series called The Magical Legend of the Leprechauns spread over two nights, were furious at this waste of their precious time.

"Spend five minutes in the company of these Irish spirits and you'll truly think they're magical," writes USA Today TV critic, Robert Bianco. "Spend 10 minutes and you'll start to wish someone to stomp on their pointy-eared little heads. Spend 30 minutes and you'll wish someone would stomp on your head - anything to make this twee drivel stop."

That sounds a bit racist to me. There are "fairy troopers" also in the epic and they get nothing like the same abuse. Tom Shales of the Washington Post describes the fairies as "those darling fluttery creatures who live on a big floating rock-castle that looks like a collaboration between Rene Magritte and - well, Rene Magritte and some idiot."

The leprechauns, who are drunk most of the time, are battling their ancient enemy the fairies for mastery of the Emerald Isle but all ends well thanks to the intervention of a stressed-out Manhattan executive played by Randy Quaid and the Grand Banshee played by Whoopi Goldberg.

A perceptive Irish critic on the Voice has spotted "the real story" behind the fantasy. "The strife between the genteel, English-accented fairies and the rough and ready beer-swilling leprechauns is really a metaphor for the Northern Ireland troubles," writes Darina Molloy.

"All the players are here - the snooty unionists (fairies), the charming roguish republicans (leprechauns) and the neutral American observer."

The leader of the leps, Seamus Muldoon, played by Colm Meany, shows he knows his Irish history when asked what started the strife: "Oh, the usual - everything and everybody; nothing and nobody."

The US critics missed all this metaphor stuff. Mr Shales of the Post deplored that there was no decent script, plot or cast. He goes on: Leprechauns is one of the gaudiest, noisiest voids in modern TV history. It's not a movie, it's a hangover . . . "

Mr Shales grudgingly concedes a certain "negative perfection" in the casting of Randy Quaid as the romantic leading man. "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."

But if he is a metaphor for George Mitchell, who is 66, maybe Randy is not really too old.

The stirring battle scenes are too much for the ultra-sensitive Mr Shales. "They stage huge battles in the grass that go on for 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."

One of these casualties of war utters the immortal Ronald Reagan line: "Where's the rest of me?" as he dwindles away.

Some critics who stayed awake saw echoes of The Quiet Man in the Barry Fitzgerald look-alike, who drives Mr Quaid/John Wayne from the station to his cottage which he ends up sharing with the chief of the leps, Seamus Muldoon/Colm Meany, who gets him drunk on poteen.

But another critic detects "parallels" with Gulliver's Travels as the "oversized" Randy Quaid is caught in the middle of the battles.

And there are two romantic angles. Randy the peacemaker falls for a local beauty played by Orla Brady who is a pale version of Maureen O'Hara. But the real love story is between Muldoon's son and a fairy princess from the mortal enemies of the leps. So we have a Romeo and Juliet parallel.

The longer you stayed watching the leprechauns battling the fairies and eventually making peace not war, the more layers of 700 years of Irish history and European literature peeled away.

How could Mr Shales cruelly say "the real pity of this war is that there aren't sufficient casualties"?

He reveals the aggression which our leprechauns and fairies arouse in those who fear the power of the Irish spirit world. "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."

And we thought the world was safe when the Cold War ended and the Berlin Wall came down. Those little people keep getting us into trouble.