NOW PLAYING: The Haunted Mansion

Posted: Monday, December 15, 2003

The Walt Disney Company, in a valiant attempt to bring the feeling of visiting their theme parks to our everyday life, have finally done it. Their latest "thrill-fest", The Haunted Mansion, achieves everything that the previous effort, Pirates of the Caribbean does not. Watching this movie truly feels like being on an amusement park ride, including the interminably long wait to get started, the two-minutes of action, and the queasy feeling accompanied by exiting the car to your left.

The Haunted Mansion is, to put it kindly, a complete waste of time - my time, your time, the studio's time, and especially, Eddie Murphy's time. Why this comic genius is floundering in "family-friendly" dreck is beyond me, but the evidence is there for all to see. The Nutty Professor, Dr. Doolittle, Daddy Day Care, and now this. Murphy was, in the eighties, the hottest comic around. He was edgy, sharp, irreverent, and hilarious. I suppose you could say he is maturing, but I'll take a juvenile Eddie over a neutered one any day. In Mansion, he plays Jim Evers, of Evers and Evers Real Estate. When the oh-so-stereotypical workaholic decides to detour from a fun, family weekend to view a potential house for sale, you know immediately that things are going to go to hell quick. Once Evers and crew are trapped in the titular haunted mansion, it's ghosts-a-plenty as we the audience are tediously instructed in the negative ramifications of neglecting your family, especially if one member of the clan resembles a deceased 17th century aristocrat It seems the previous and current owner of the Mansion has designs on Mrs. Evers, convinced is he that she is his lost love come back to life. Mr. Evers, of course, must save his wife from certain necremony, and hijinks ensue.

There is nothing even vaguely original about The Haunted Mansion, but this could almost be forgiven. After all, the production values are very nice and the special effects are certainly workable. However, with acting so poor it makes Days of Our Lives look sophisticated, and writing so mind-numbingly dumb, Mansion is one long exercise in stamina for the audience. I, myself, actually dozed off for a good fifteen or twenty minutes, something that rarely happens because I'm so rabid to get to the theater on time that I'm keyed up through the entire showing.

I suppose I should cut Disney some slack, because haunted house movies are obviously not easy to do. A few years back, there was another high-profile, big-budget haunted house movie called The Haunting - equally dull with just slightly better acting. And then there are always the teen-exploitation scare-fests like Thirteen Ghosts which, though they look scary, are always more interested in gore than story. No, the only haunted house movie I've seen in the last ten years to be of any consequence at all was The Others, fabulously acted by Nicole Kidman. That movie was, perhaps, more successful because of its adherence to story and plot as opposed to special effects. The Others was an exercise in mood and atmosphere, and eschewed the easy road of blood splatter and glowing, cackling ghosts.

Actually, it's hard to see the logic in some of Disney's choices of late. Granted, a haunted house, pirates, these things make for good cinema if done right. But when the mining of your them park for ideas yields the nightmare that was The Country Bears, I think it's time to rethink the strategy. The Haunted Mansion falls into a similar category, except that expectations are higher, as are the stakes. In failing, Mansion fails hard.

In addition to a wooden central cast, Mansion includes an equally irritating and predictable supporting cast, including Jennifer Tilly as a wisecracking crystal ball, and Wallace Shawn (Vizzini from The Princess Bride) as a cuckolded gardener (dead, of course.) While these characters should have provided the laugh track, they, instead, fall flat.

The Walt Disney Company, in an attempt to squeeze every last dime out of every attraction they have, movies included, has undermined the trust felt by an entire nation. The ploys to make money are transparent, and the product is getting shoddy, almost as if Eisner and the rest of his cronies assume that the American public are little more than glassy-eyed cash machines. Well, the truth is out, and we're not going to take it anymore. Crap is not acceptable, even if it is flashy and brightly packaged. The Cat in the Hat was the first casualty of the season, but certainly not the last. The Haunted Mansion is a terrible failure, but something tells me the suits at the mouse-house won't be thwarted so easily. Just you wait, Pluto's Log Ride: the Movie is probably just around the corner. Grade: D

The Haunted Mansion is rated PG for frightening images and language.

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