If I were a brain-dead studio executive, I would have bet the farm that “The Haunted Mansion” would be a great film simply because this summer’s Pirates of the Caribbean was a hit. After all, after Pirates hit big at the box office, it seemed that you can release any movie that is based on a famous ride at a Disney theme park. (Don’t laugh! I’m sure “Space Mountain: The Movie” is already being considered.)
Fortunately, I’m not a brain-dead studio executive, and I understand that films are largely judged by their own merits, not based on marketing trends manufactured by media reporting companies.
Eddie Murphy fans from the pre-“Beverly Hills Cop” era will of course remember his “Delirious” routine in which he makes fun of the fact that black people never do haunted house movies. And with the exception of a few urban horror flicks like Bones and “Tales from the Hood,” he’s pretty much been dead-on in this assessment – until now. Murphy used to poke fun at the fact that in “The Amityville Horror,” the house itself warned the family to leave and they stuck around. In “The Haunted Mansion,” Murphy’s character is almost as dumb as the folks in “The Amityville Horror.”
“The Haunted Mansion” opens with Jim Evers (Eddie Murphy) as an energetic and devoted real estate agent. He’s in business with his wife Sara (Marsha Thomason), but soon we learn that Jim is a little more dedicated to the real estate business than he is to his family. Because he has closed so many deals in the past few months, he’s missed several family events with Sara and his two kids.
In an attempt to make it up to his family, Jim agrees to go on a special weekend with them. But a mysterious phone call from a new client asking Sara to see a house causes a new stumbling block. On the way to their family weekend, the Evers make a side trip to this house, an old mansion in the swamp lands.
Although the creepy butler Ramsley (Terrence Stamp) assures them that this should be a simple sale for Master Gracey (Nathaniel Parker), we all know things aren’t going to turn out good. The first big problem is that the mansion is haunted (which is not much of a surprise, considering the movie’s title). The second big problem is that the ghosts are after Sara, who is the spitting image of Master Gracey’s lover who committed suicide decades ago. (Now there’s a plot point that has never been tried in a horror movie.)
Disney veteran Rob Minkoff is at the helm of “The Haunted Mansion.” While Minkoff scored a hit a decade ago with The Lion King, you have to remember that he is also responsible for Stuart Little 2 movies. I’ll give you three guesses as to which film “The Haunted Mansion” more resembles.
The ghosts in “The Haunted Mansion” don’t always make sense. Sometimes they look like a normal person. Other times, they’re surrounded by a cocoon of ectoplasm. Jim also runs across a crystal ball with the spirit of a gypsy (Jennifer Tilly) trapped inside. This ball becomes a secondary character and a chance for Jim to talk to someone when he’s separated from his family, a la Wilson from “Castaway.”
With “The Haunted Mansion,” Eddie Murphy continues in a long line of family film stinkers. This era in his career is going to be remembered (or not remembered, more likely) for movies that come and go without much note. If you liked Murphy’s latest films, then you’ll probably find “The Haunted Mansion” to be pretty good. However, if you thought Eddie Murphy’s work has been lame for the past few years, “The Haunted Mansion” won’t hold many surprises.
The last truly funny Eddie Murphy movie to hit the theaters (not including Shrek because that wasn’t really an Eddie Murphy vehicle) was Bowfinger. But you have to hand it to the man. He’s been prolific over the years – prolific like a cattle farm that sells manure. Let’s do the tally – The Nutty Professor II, Dr. Dolittle 2, Showtime, “The Adventures of Pluto Nash,” I Spy, Daddy Day Care and now “The Haunted Mansion.” Eddie better start reading his scripts better and picking his projects with some more integrity or he’ll end up like Kevin Costner.
Still, considering the competition, “The Haunted Mansion” may sadly be your best bet over Thanksgiving with Bad Santa, The Missing and The Cat in the Hat fighting for audiences this season. Probably the happiest person with the Thanksgiving movie line-up for 2003 will be Will Ferrell. His Christmas-themed Elf should stand up nicely to the competition. Lackluster family fare like “The Haunted Mansion” could easily be the shot in the arm to make Elf the sleeper hit of the season.
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