The Haunted Mansion Movie Review
As mechanical as an old Disneyland automaton, "The Haunted Mansion" is the third movie in a year from the Mouse House studio based on one of its own theme park rides -- and while it's certainly no inspired delight like "Pirates of the Caribbean," at least it's not as insufferably brain-dead as "The Country Bears."
Eddie Murphy is at his family-flick hammiest as a typical workaholic Movie Dad in need of a trite examination of his one-dimensional priorities. A sycophantic phony of a real estate agent, he often misses soccer games and anniversary dinners to make a sale, so his wife (Marsha Thomason) and smart-lipped, eye-rolling kids (Marc John Jefferies, Aree Davis) are especially chagrined when he takes a detour during a family outing to try to land the account to sell a cobweb-covered manse out in the boonies.
Scripted for maximum cluelessness, it takes Murphy's clan half the movie to catch on that the house is cursed and its occupants are ghosts, and the other half to realize what any half-astute viewer can ascertain in the first 15 minutes: The family becomes trapped in the house by its dead-by-his-own-hand Edwardian master (Nathanial Parker) because he thinks Murphy's wife is his reincarnated long-lost love who can lift the curse by marrying him.
Taking design, F/X and story cues from the Disneyland ride of the same name, "The Haunted Mansion" goes through its motions with ironically little spirit as Murphy grins, mugs and screams to the kid-friendly spookiness of featherweight specters and ghouls (designed by creature king Rick Baker). But without the star's madcap magnetism, it would collapse like a 20-bedroom house of cards.
Director Rob Minkoff (the "Stuart Little" movies) squanders brilliant supporting players like Terence Stamp ("The Limey") and Wallace Shawn ("The Princess Bride"). He noticeably chops out a couple transitional scenes, seemingly willy-nilly. He reduces the wife and kids to one-note clichés (or maybe that was screenwriter David Berenbaum, who did much better with "Elf"), and the actors certainly meet these low expectations.
He seems far more focused on the film's style (suits-of-armor-lined hallways, secret passages, looming fireplaces) than on its haunted-house essence -- and even these elaborate set decorations have evident failings, like a pair of huge, ornate doors that are clearly nothing more than painted scrims if you give them any scrutiny at all.
Although on many occasions Murphy provides "Mansion" with better comic moments than it deserves -- as he comes to realize what's important in life (of course) and does find the resolve to rescue his wife (of course) -- it's soon obvious he's carrying the movie's dead weight.
Just imagine anyone else trying to breathe comedy into the line "Dark spirits? No dark spirits! Don't you make no dark spirits come out!" and one can see how much worse "The Haunted Mansion" could have been.