The Haunted Mansion
R E V I E W   B Y   R I C H   C L I N E dir Rob Minkoff
scr David Berenbaum
with Eddie Murphy, Marsha Thomason, Terence Stamp, Nathaniel Parker, Jennifer Tilly, Wallace Shawn, Dina Waters, Marc John Jefferies, Aree Davis, Jim Doughan, Rachel Harris, Heather Juergensen
release US 26.Nov.03, UK 13.Feb.04
03/US Disney 1h27

Solving the mystery: Murphy, Shawn and Waters, with Tilly in the orb.

murphy stamp tilly

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the haunted mansion Disney made two films based on theme park rides in 2003: the inventive and entertaining Pirates of the Caribbean ... and this limp comic thriller. The problem here is that, besides referencing the ride, there's nothing to this film. It's basically just another Eddie Murphy family comedy--with very few jokes.

When Louisiana estate agents Jim and Sara Evers (Murphy and Thomason) hear that a massive manse is about to go up for sale, it puts increased strain on their marriage. Sara wants the workaholic Jim to spend more time with their kids (Jefferies and Davis). When they stop to look at the house, they get more than they bargained for, as a sudden rainstorm strands them in the massive, creepy mansion with a sinister butler (Stamp), the gothic lord of the manor (Parker) and a couple of twitchy servants (Shawn and Waters). And they'll have to break a centuries-old curse to get out alive!

There might be a good movie in the Disneyland ride, but this isn't it. Everything here is belaboured, from the overwrought production design (looks great but there's too much of it) to the overcomplicated plot (makes no sense really). The cast seem adrift, unsure why they're in the movie at all--Murphy just cracks jokes with his usual energetic glee, Stamp snarls perfectly, Tilly is funny as a gypsy in a green orb, and so on. They're all fine, and they thankfully never go over the top.

But none of it matters, so it's impossible for the film to generate any suspense at all. Comic thrillers are always risky, but this one lacks even a hint of badly needed black humour. It's far too silly, with a paint-by-numbers plot to connect each unrelated set piece. It's watchable and enjoyable to a degree, but as Minkoff tries harder and harder to crank up the slapstick and suspense, the film lumbers to a halt. It's another case where outtakes during the closing credits would have helped hugely!

cert PG some violence and grisliness 11.Jan.04

R E A D E R   R E V I E W S
send your review to Shadows... the haunted mansion David Haviland,London: 1/5 "Based on a Disney ride, this is a creaky merry-go-round compared with the thrilling rollercoaster that was Pirates of the Caribbean. Murphy's character is prissy and vain, a man who avoids getting out of his car in case his shoes get dirty. Thomason (Playing the Field), is stunning but bland as his wife, and the comic turns (Terence Stamp, Wallace Shawn and Jennifer Tilly) are left embarrassingly adrift by a humour-free script. This is, of course, a kids' film, but kids are just as sensitive to weak storytelling and non-jokes as adults, and possessed statues singing barbershop quartets is a non-joke. What's perhaps most troubling is Disney's apparent policy of discreetly including racial tension as a plot element in its films. The reason the family are trapped in the mansion is because Murphy's (black) wife is the spitting image of the woman who had a love affair with the owner centuries ago, but could never marry him because 'they were from two different worlds' Disney-speak for 'she was black' apparently. The Haunted Mansion is just a kids' film, but it's a rubbish one. Treat the family and rent Robin Hood instead." (29.Jan.04)
© 2004 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall