The Haunted Mansion

Disney's third foray into films based on theme park rides (or, as they prefer, "attractions") yields the mediocre The Haunted Mansion, a film that feels focus-grouped to death. By trying to appeal to every imaginable segment of the population, Disney's film loses any sense of life and appeals to no one. It is a nice homage to the theme park ride, and upon closer inspection, it seems that nearly every element of the ride, whether it is the music, the waltzing ghosts, the large dining table, changing portraits, singing busts, or the hitchhiking ghosts, are somewhere in the film. Apparently, director Rob Minkoff (Stuart Little 2, Stuart Little) and screenwriter David Berenbaum (Elf) spent so much time working in these little asides that they forgot about the story. It's a little better than the bizarre The Country Bears and lags far behind Pirates of the Caribbean.

Another sign that The Haunted Mansion may not live up to his potential is the presence of Eddie Murphy. Murphy (Daddy Day Care, I-Spy) is a gifted comedian, but frequently makes bad choices in film roles. Here, he is real estate agent Jim Evers, always eager to get the sale, often at the expense of his wife Sara (Marsha Thomason, Black Knight, Tug of War), daughter Megan (Aree Davis), and son Michael (Marc John Jeffries, Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle, Brown Sugar). The story begins when Master Gracey (Nathaniel Parker, All Forgotten, Othello), the mysterious owner of the Gracey Manor, asks Sara to come alone to look at the house. Sara, who finally convinced Jim to take a weekend off and spend time with the family, takes the entire family, against Gracey's instructions. A storm floods the roads, forcing the Evers to stay the night.

It's immediately clear that Gracey has some special interest in Sara. Gracey's butler, Ramsley (Terence Stamp, My Boss's Daughter, Full Frontal), an old lifeless husk that speaks in ominous monotone, quickly separates Jim from Sara, leaving her to Gracey. Jim wanders around the house before meeting Madame Leota (Jennifer Tilly, Monster's Inc., The Cat's Meow), a floating head in a crystal ball. By this time, Jim has begun seeing strange unexplainable things, and The Haunted Mansion has lost all purpose. It is not a comedy, since there is nothing funny. It is not scary, or even creepy. It is just boring. The rest of the film is basically Leota telling Jim to do something, and he does it. Megan and Michael discover an old portrait where the woman looks exactly like Sara, which gets them wondering more. Well, it's no secret that the inhabitants of Gracey Manor are all ghosts. In the prologue, the Gracey's love commits suicide, and that has something to do with Gracey's desire to see Sara.

Although the story is dull and Murphy spends most of his time mugging for the camera, the production value is impressive. If Minkoff lavished as much attention on a story as he did on designing all the sets, The Haunted Mansion would be great. Gracey Manor looks ominous and creepy, with its long dark corridors and decrepit furnishings. Everything looks grand, but at the same time, looks pretty eerie. The film is set in the swamps of Louisiana, adding to the dilapidated, bleak atmosphere. The film is great to look at, with decent special effects, but there is nothing going on worth remembering.

Haro Rates It: Not That Good.
1 hour, 39 minutes, Rated PG for frightening images, thematic elements and language.

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