Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Leprechaun Week: 'Leprechaun 4: In Space' (1997)

It seems counterintuitive to take a franchise into outer space just as it's dealing with a shrinking budget and shortened production time. The Leprechaun movies have never been lavish affairs, but Leprechaun 4: In Space is easily the cheapest-looking of the series, primarily because its setting and storyline call for the most ambitious effects of any of the movies so far. Although taking any durable horror character (say, Jason or Pinhead) and sending them into space may seem like an inherently entertaining idea, it tends to highlight the ridiculousness of the premise rather than really add anything. Those other characters usually play things fairly straight, so you'd think the leprechaun would have an advantage as an already comedic character. But Leprechaun 4 is easily the grimmest movie in the series, and its attempts at comedy are the flattest.

So, uh, the leprechaun is in space. Why? How did he get there? Clearly this is not important. He's on some planet and he's being hunted by a bunch of space Marines who are obvious Aliens rip-offs. Although there are no references to any of the other Leprechaun movies, as is customary with this franchise, there are actually some elements here that could contribute to series continuity, if you were insane enough to care about that sort of thing. The leprechaun has kidnapped some sort of space princess that he intends to make his wife. Since this is the future, it could conceivably be a thousand years after the events of Leprechaun 2, and that's how long the leprechaun has to wait before getting another chance to take a wife (there's no mention of the whole sneezing-three-times rule here, though). The Marines corner the leprechaun and blow him to pieces at the beginning of the movie, but that doesn't stop him from completely regenerating and then bursting out of one Marine's, uh, genital area, Alien-style. So maybe that explains how he's survived being completely disintegrated at the end of all the other movies.

Other important elements of the leprechaun's personality are absent this time, including his penchant for rhyming and even his obsession with "me gold," which only becomes relevant toward the end of the movie. Mostly he wants to get his princess back from the Marines, who nab her on behalf of mad scientist Dr. Mittenhand (Guy Siner, giving an enjoyably hammy performance). Warwick Davis is disappointingly subdued, and having the leprechaun engage in gun battles is not exactly the best use of his character (he does still get to use his magic, and even has a green light saber). The endless running around on the movie's cheap-looking spaceship sets gets tedious pretty quickly, and the movie borrows liberally (and lazily) from other sci-fi movies, in particular the Alien series.

The special effects are notably terrible, especially any shots of the ship from outside and a late-film sequence in which the leprechaun gets enlarged to gigantic proportions. Director Brian Trenchard-Smith was also behind Leprechaun 3 (and has a cult following for his early low-budget Australian exploitation movies), but whatever charm he brought to that movie is missing here. The misguided attempts at comedy (including a bizarre scene in which the hard-nosed Marine commander performs in drag) are failures, although Siner is amusing to watch as the German-accented crazed doctor. It's sad to say, but sending the leprechaun into space resulted in easily the series' worst installment so far.

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