Genre: Horror Comedy and Fantasy Running Time: 1 hr. 28 min.
Release Date: November 26th, 2003 MPAA Rating: PG
Director: Rob Minkoff Actors: Eddie Murphy, Marsha Thomason, Jennifer Tilly, Terence Stamp, Nathaniel Parker, Wallace Shawn, Dina Waters, Marc John Jefferies, Aree Davis
im Evers (Eddie Murphy) and his wife Sara (Marsha Thomason) are both real estate agents (for their own company, Evers & Evers), working diligently to sell homes, even when it interferes with personal milestones – such as their wedding anniversary. Unfortunately, Jim gets too carried away (unlike Sara, who manages a better work/life balance), tending to neglect family events, including sports games with their children Megan (Aree Davis) and Michael (Marc John Jefferies). “We’re looking to buy.”
Though Jim promises the weekend for a lakeside retreat, he can’t turn down an offer to represent a sprawling, multi-million-dollar mansion (complete with a moat-like bog in the front), which they can take a brief look at on their drive out of town. Of course, once they arrive on the premises, eerie occurrences begin to transpire, embellished by ominous imagery – from gravestones littering the backyard to a spontaneous lightning storm to the ghoulish butler Ramsley (Terence Stamp, with a funnily quivering voice). Even the owner, Edward Gracey (Nathaniel Parker), is peculiar, often materializing out of nothing. “Some people have pools; some people have private cemeteries.”
Opening the same year as another big-budget film based on a popular Disneyland ride, this more juvenile-minded adventure also involves ghostly horror elements, though the attention to excitement is diminished in favor of placing youthful or unprepared characters in harrowing situations – or to witness spooky visualizations, much like the theme park attraction. In many ways, this is something of an updated take on the same idea behind “Poltergeist”: to make a scary picture for younger audiences. There’s a touch of mystery, seemingly random side-missions required to escape the grounds, plenty of explorations in a baroquely gothic castle, some overly trusting protagonists in over their heads, boo moments with mildly frightening special effects, the atrocious accursed getting alleviated by comic relief (such as with the always comical Wallace Shawn), and kids who are unconvincingly brave in the face of the supernatural. In general, the undead are more prone to frolicking and jesting than haunting. “You don’t believe in ghosts, sir?”
A basis on the Haunted Mansion ride, faithfully recreating extensive concepts here with computer graphics, is a bit of a stretch to create a feature film; the story is expectedly flimsy, relying primarily on little thrills and jokes as the characters encounter waggish specters or wander through creepy sets. The shocks are minimal and the laughs are tepid, though the happenings are amusing in an inoffensive, moderately enthusiastic way (one of the best sequences involves crypt inhabitants grabbing at the heroes, like something out of the comparably insincere action of “The Mummy” ). Unfortunately, the cleverness is also at a minimum; few things stand out as memorable or inventive or shocking. Plus, Murphy isn’t a great casting choice; his brand of humor and his overbearing personality never suitably fit amid the preternatural manifestations and doltish denizens (even his one action moment is poorly edited to avoid the unlikeliness of it). It often feels like a Murphy vehicle rather than a Disney adventure, though the whole affair becomes a rather standard live-action fantasy endeavor, reminiscent of a bigger-budgeted episode from the television series “The Magical World of Disney” (and “The Wonderful World of Disney” after that). “Don’t be afraid of anything.”
– Mike Massie