The Luck of the Irish is a made for Disney TV movie whose preachy message of tolerance and diversity is nonchalantly tossed overboard in the final act of the movie so that its conventional fantasy movie plot of recovering a powerful object from the villains can be served.
A lame attempt to rehab things in the final scene by bludgeoning the audience over the head with the star’s ill-advised attempt to make Irish step dancing cool and in one of the more cringeworthy moments in the history of film, then having him sing “This Land is Your Land” while members of the audience join in only serves to possibly explain why you never heard of any of the actors involved ever again.
Ryan Merriman as the impossibly lucky junior high student Kyle Johnson only comes off as a moderate douche and was such a blandly forgettable presence, you can be forgiven if you mistakenly thought he played every anonymous middle child in most cookie cutter family sitcoms of the late 90s and early 2000s. The plot though does him no favors as it forces him to suddenly develop an irrational obsession to find out where his family came from because of an upcoming school program about family heritage.
Worse, his parents are required to act in a comically suspicious manner because they don’t want to tell Ryan that his mom is a leprechaun. I can see where some families might not be comfortable discussing that, but why didn’t his mother just say her family emigrated from Ireland and leave it at that?
Things spiral out of control (as things are want to do when the wee folk are involved) when Kyle visits a carnival and has the lucky charm his mom gave him stolen. What follows is the unluckiest day Kyle’s life. Being that this is a Disney movie, it doesn’t mean his dog got run over, he lost an arm in an industrial accident or his parents were murdered, but is instead focused on a much more slapstick idea of what is unlucky such as spilling food on his clothes and having the water fountain at school spray his pants so it appears that he pissed himself.
But the eternal shame of middle school incontinence is nothing compared to the real crisis that occurs that night during the big basketball game! It’s the semi-finals and Kyle’s school has never been this far in the tournament! And the team has been riding Kyle’s lucky basketball skills to victory after victory! But without his lucky coin, he’s just another sucky white guy!
The team wins in spite of his terrible shooting and turnovers cluing in the audience that the climax of the film will involve the championship game and giving us false hope that it’s going to be something awesome like Hoosiers but with leprechauns!
But even with Kyle battling it out in the paint with evil leprechaun Seamus McTiernen while his grandfather is being held prisoner on top of one of the backboards during the game, the combination of the total lack of native basketball prowess exhibited by either Kyle or Seamus and the clumsy, headache inducing way the game is shot just make you wish it would be midnight so these leprechauns would turn back into pumpkins or however it is you get rid of them.
But so much more is at stake than whether Kyle will ever be the cool kid in school again. The stolen charm doesn’t just give Kyle luck but acts to protect the entire family clan! Now his grandfather’s giant potato chip factory is at risk! And his mom not only has turned back into a leprechaun, even worse, she’s insisting on cooking disgusting Irish food and making Kyle take it to school for his lunch! But maybe it isn’t all bad because his classmates might be so repulsed by his lunch that they might not notice Kyle has started to shrink, his hair color is changing and his ears are getting pointy!
And what kind of bad guy would Seamus be if he wasn’t going to use the charm to become king of the leprechauns? In a perhaps a moment of meta commentary on how dopey the script is, Kyle basically wonders aloud why they entrusted something so valuable to such a dumb ass kid like him only to be met with a total non answer from his grandfather.
While the film is littered with all sorts of efforts to promote its messages of respecting differences, embracing who you are and being self confident (grandfather has to accept his daughter’s marriage to a human, Kyle has to accept he is half leprechaun, Kyle has to learn to succeed without relying on luck), in the end everyone is only truly happy once they have the charm back and can pass for human again. Additionally, there’s no indication that Kyle is going to stop wearing the charm and thus no longer gain an unfair advantage during his tests and athletic events. In fact, he has to wear it or he will turn back into a leprechaun.
So what have we really learned from this entire ill-conceived pot of fool’s gold? That to succeed in America means conforming to society’s expectations and maintaining your competitive advantage at all costs. And honestly, isn’t that a better message for today’s youth than some blarney about how it’s okay to be leprechaun who eats really gross stuff and enjoys Irish step dancing on the weekends?
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