The Haunted Mansion (5/10)

Copyright © 2003 by Tony Medley

This is the second movie this year by Disney based on a Theme Park ride. The first was Pirates of the Caribbean. Both suffer from the same faults, all fluff, little substance.

Jim Evers (Eddie Murphy) is a real estate agent in partnership with his wife, Sara (Marsha Thompson), who is a dead ringer for the fiancť of Master Gracey (Nathaniel Parker), who died several centuries ago. Gracey calls Sara to invite her to visit his mansion, which he says heís selling, and asks her to come alone, obviously with ulterior motives. Sara doesnít want to go, thinking Jim is devoting too much time to the business and not enough to the family, but he insists they stop by on the way to a family outing. Instead of coming alone, as requested, Jim and her two children, Megan (Aree Davis) and Michael (Marc John Jefferies), accompany her, irritating Gracey and his major domo, Ramsley (Terence Stamp).

After arrival, they get trapped inside and all sorts of things happen to them, like skeletons coming alive, and getting trapped in secret passages, and a head in a bowl that talks. Amazingly, nobody gets scared, not Jim, not Sara, and not Megan or Michael. Well, itís not very scary, although Ramsleyís kind of creepy.

Unfortunately, itís not very funny, either. Itís got all the prosaic, standard scares of the genre. Maybe Abbot and Costello could have made it more enjoyable. This cast doesnít cut the mustard.

Murphy has become a major disappointment. After a couple of good films at the start of his career, 48 Hours (1982), and Beverly Hills Cop (1984), he hasnít done much since that Iíve liked (remember I Spy?). All he contributes here is a nice smile.

Disney demeans the art of filmmaking by using films to bolster attendance at their theme parks. This film is such a waste.

On the plus side, itís always a treat for me to see Wallace Shawn, who plays Ezra, a ghost. Heís one of the more entertaining character actors extant. Shawn made his mark with me with his beguiling performance in My Dinner With Andre (1981). Iíve never seen him give anything but a thoroughly professional and enjoyable performance and he keeps his record intact here, although heís not on the screen much. And Terence Stamp does his usual good job as the lugubrious Ramsley. Stamp is another pro whose talent is wasted in things like this and the execrable My Bossís Daughter earlier this year, which, if you blinked, you missed.

This isnít the worst picture Iíve seen this year and I didnít go to sleep. But it did flunk the watch test, even though the running time is only 82 minutes. I looked at mine innumerable times. Iíd suggest you rent My Dinner With Andre instead of spending your money on this. If not, maybe your children will like it.

November 22, 2003

The End