For centuries King Arthur (Patrick Bergin) and his men have lain dormant underground, for his sorceror Merlin (Rik Mayall) had no choice but to have them sleep all these years while he worked out a way to not only bring them back, but bring them back without also reviving Arthur's mortal enemy Mordred (Craig Sheffer) and his followers. Those evildoers have spent over a millennium existing in a cavern, but plotting all this time to return and rule the world, and now a scientist, Dr Joan Maxwell (Tia Carrere), believes she knows what to do to make that happen...
To some Merlin: The Return was one of the worst children's movies ever made, but if your chldren were particularly undemanding they may have gained some enjoyment out of what was essentially a low budget imitation of the blockbusters that succeeded where this failed. Trouble was, you shouldn't have expected to learn much about British myth and legend from this as it seemed to have been informed by half-recalled viewings of John Boorman's Excalibur, so writer and director Paul Matthews got the names right if nothing else.
In this incarnation of the old story, both Arthur and Mordred were American for some reason, although Guinevere (Julie Hartley) remained resolutely English even if she did choose to wear her hair in blonde dreadlocks (a detail that escaped Mallory). If this sounded as if it would make the basis for a fun reimagining along the lines of the television series Maid Marian and Her Merrie Men, then of course it would, it's just that it didn't occur to Matthews, which was a shame as Bergin came across as clueless at best, as if he wasn't even sure who he was playing and a more active role for his screen wife (who looked more like his screen daughter) would not have gone amiss.
I mean, Rik Mayall was in the cast, surely a few more laughs would have been a useful notion to entertain? Yet even he was lumbered with a disappointingly sincere reading of the part, and aside from some broad humour early on, this was painfully straight-faced for most of the running time. Nobody in this seemed to be all that well cast aside from the two children who the younger audience members were intended to identify with, yet while Leigh Greyvenstein as the English girl was plucky enough, Byron Taylor as an imported American tyke only served to display the pudding of motivations behind trying to appeal to as many markets as they possibly could.
With the resuilt that Merlin: The Return appealed to hardly anyone. It's odd that such an identifiably English folk tale should be adapted into international pleading to the world's pockets, but that was what was on offer here as the little girl's mother gets her involved with the baddies thanks to her acting as a medium for Mordred. He spends the whole movie stuck in that cavern, right until the grand finale where he is released as if taking part in a gameshow, and we are "treated" to a clash between his and Arthur's troops, which appears to involve them simply clanging their swords together and hoping for the best. There was no shortage of special effects, but even they were on the lower budgeted scale, and there were only so many times you could watch Mayall hold out his twiddling fingers to shoot a beam of light out of them before you started to wonder if anything else was going to happen. Truth was, this was unforgivably boring. Music by Mark Thomas.