December 2003
The Haunted Mansion

Reviewed by Ron Henriques

The Haunted Mansion
Distributor: Walt Disney Pictures
Director: Rob Minkoff
Producers: Andrew Gunn, Don Hahn
Screen Writer David Berenbaum
Composer: Mark Mancina
Cast: Eddie Murphy, Terence Stamp, Nathaniel Parker, Marsha Thomason, Jennifer Tilly, Wallace Shawn, Dina Waters, Marc John Jefferies, & Aree Davis













If you're hearing a loud thumping sound as you're reading this and wondering what it is, don't worry. It's just me banging my head against the wall over this movie "The Haunted Mansion." Well not over the movie so much, but the fact that I'm puzzled over what's up with Eddie Murphy's career. 1996's "Nutty Professor" remake saved him and brought his work into a new genre: children's films. Not that I don't like seeing Eddie in these types of movies, it’s just that they've become progressively worse. "Daddy Day-Care" wasn't a movie milestone, but it did have some heart and was a step up from the weightless comedy "I Spy", his previous feature. I guess the moderate success of "Daddy Day-Care" and the inevitable success of this latest venture will kill all my hopes of seeing Murphy return to R-rated and hilarious material like Beverly Hills Cop. (1&2 not 3) Note the word hilarious, because its been a long time since I've laughed hard at one of his films and "Haunted Mansion" doesn't fall under the terms of hilarious, humorous or even amusing. It's full of jokes, but the biggest one is on us and perhaps Murphy himself.

Murphy stars as Jim Evers a workaholic real estate broker who despite promising his wife, Sara (Marsha Thomason) a quite weekend with their kids, finds himself meeting with a prospective client in an old mansion in the country. The mansion is owned by Master Gracey (Nathaniel Parker) and run by his servant Ramsley (Terence Stamp) but what the Evers family don't know is that they hide a century old secret: they're all dead. Gracey committed suicide after the death of his fiancé and has continued to haunt the castle with his servants, hoping to be reunited with his love in the reincarnated form of Sara. What's this you ask? A white dude wants to take Eddie Murphy's woman away from him? Not a chance, unless this is a Saturday Night Live skit.

I'm sorry to say that this film was such an unrewarding experience that it’s difficult to write about. Yes it's another movie based on a theme park ride but unlike last summer's "Pirates of the Caribbean" it looks like not much effort was put into it. What's the problem? You've got Eddie Murphy at the biggest studio in Hollywood, unlimited special effects at your disposal and Rob Minkoff, the director of "The Lion King" and the "Stuart Little" series. Eddie Murphy doesn't even look like he's trying. The first half of the film he's exposed to the supernatural, levitated in a chair by Jennifer Tilly (inside a crystal ball as the disembodied head of a fortune teller in a thankless role) and he still has trouble believing his kids when they tell him the house is full of ghosts. I've heard of suspension of disbelief, but this is ridiculous.

And don't get me started on Terence Stamp. I don't know if he was trying to impress his grandkids or needed money to by a water heater for his house, but here we have one of the greatest and iconic actors of his generation wasted in a cardboard role. I was dying to see him and Murphy play off each other as the funny and straight man but instead Murphy is neither funny and Stamp looks like he wants to put him in a straight jacket.

Alright this is a kid’s film, so we can't have blood and guts all over the place, but a little thrill please? This is "The Haunted Mansion" and the only cool or slightly thrilling effect is a sequence involving some re-animated corpses who initially pose a threat but are quickly locked away in a crypt. Disney had real balls and succeeded by making "Pirates of the Caribbean" their first PG-13 film, why couldn't they have done the same and given us some PG-13 thrills. Will the kids love it? I'm not a kid, how should I know. I'm sure they'll be satisfied by what cheap thrills are thrown at them and they won't get scared, but it's a helluva way to keep them busy (or torture them) if you ask me. If a remake of the "Charlie Chan" series ever materializes Murphy has a great shot at playing cowardly chauffer Mantan Moreland. Wait a minute, isn't Lucy Liu working on an update of that series? Guess I spoke too soon. Shoot me now, please!