The Haunted Mansion

The Haunted Mansion

*

Reviewed by: David Haviland

If you add up the box office receipts of all his films, Harrison Ford is by some distance the biggest star of all time. Eddie Murphy currently sits fifth in this table, which might explain his recent focus on big studio family films. With no apparent interest in writing or directing after the disastrous Harlem Nights, perhaps his motivation is simply to entertain more people than anyone in history. Then again, it could be the $20 million he gets for each film...

It seems charitable to come up with some excuse for his participation in The Haunted Mansion, for there's nothing in the script to recommend it. Murphy plays Jim Evers, a cheesy estate agent who neglects his family to focus on work. Jim promises to take them away for the weekend, but en route makes them stop at one last call, a baroque mansion which has just come on the market. Naturally, complications arise, and before long they and he are trapped in a nightmare, involving ghosts, secret passages and an ancient mystery.

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The film is based on a Disney theme park ride, but feels like a creaky merry-go-round compared with the thrilling rollercoaster that was Pirates Of The Caribbean. Murphy's character is prissy and vain, a man who avoids getting out of his car, in case his shoes get dirty. Marsha Thomason (Shazza in TV's Playing The Field) is stunning, but bland, as his wife and the comic turns (Terence Stamp, Wallace Shawn, Jennifer Tilly) are left embarrassingly adrift by a humour-free script. This is, of course, a kids' film, but kids are just as sensitive to weak storytelling and non-jokes as adults - possessed statues, singing barbershop quartets, is a non-joke.

Perhaps, what's most troubling is Disney's apparent policy of discreetly including racial tension as a plot element in its films. The Lion King's hyenas were clearly identified as being black in a move that seemed designed to reinforce the antagonism between the two sets of characters. Here, at least the subtext is slightly less inflammatory. The reason the family are trapped in the mansion is because Murphy's wife is the spitting image of the woman who had a love affair with the owner centuries ago, but could never marry him because "they were from two different worlds" - Disney-speak for "she was black", apparently.

The Haunted Mansion is just a kids' film, but it's a rubbish one. Treat the family and rent Robin Hood instead.

Reviewed on: 29 Jan 2004
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A workaholic estate agent learns to appreciate his family when trapped in a haunted house.
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Director: Rob Minkoff

Writer: David Berenbaum

Starring: Eddie Murphy, Terence Stamp, Jennifer Tilly, Wallace Shawn, Nathaniel Parker, Marsha Thomason

Year: 2003

Runtime: 87 minutes

BBFC: PG - Parental Guidance

Country: US

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