At one point in Haunted Mansion, the latest Eddie Murphy vehicle based on a Disneyland theme-park ride, a brother and sister become separated from their parents in a 19th-century mansion. Urging that they follow a floating specter, the older sister, clearly the braver of the two, chastises her younger brother, “Where’s your sense of adventure?”
Well, that’s a good question, one that viewers would doubtless like to put to the makers of Haunted Mansion, a dull, thoughtless film, void of humor and, except for one mildly frightening scene, good scares. It would be rash to say that Haunted Mansion is the worst Eddie Murphy film ever–there’s so much competition. But it’s definitely a serious competitor.
Murphy plays Jim Evers, who partners with his wife, Sara, in a real-estate company. Murphy plays an affable workaholic who neglects his wife and two kids every time a big deal is on the horizon. After missing an anniversary date with his wife, he tries to improve his status by taking the family on vacation for a weekend. Just before they leave, the wife receives a mysterious phone call from the butler of Edward Gracey extending an invitation to visit the Gracey’s ancestral mansion. Sara is uninterested, but Jim, sensing that the chance to sell the mansion could put them in position to sell other homes in the exclusive neighborhood, persuades her to stop before they start their vacation. When they arrive, it becomes clear that the current occupant is less interested in selling the house than in the beautiful Mrs. Evers, whom he associates with an ancient and tragic event that still “haunts the walls” of the mansion. The rest of the film, well, it’s really not worth retelling; once viewers understand the plot, the rest is predictable, except for a bizarre, pointless ending that tries to say something love and redemption, blah, blah, blah.
The filmmakers have made the usual bombastic claims for this film–it’s a comedy, a love story, a mystery, a ghost story, and an adventure tale all in one. The comic lines in Haunted Mansion are of the following sort: Two of the good ghosts try to aid the Evers family in their escape. As one of the ghosts drives a horse-drawn carriage, the other one remarks, “If you keep driving like this, you’ll kill us all.” To which the driver responds, “That’s where you’re wrong because some of us are already dead!”
The only claim they might have been expected to fulfill has to do with the film’s visuals, its sets and the special effects. Haunted Mansion is based, after all, on the Disney theme ride. There is one scene toward the end in a mausoleum that is visually impressive and causes some mild shivers. Aside from that, the film gives the distinct impression that the most creative energies went into the construction of the decorative cobwebs that are draped over every object in the mansion. With all that time and effort spent on the design of cobwebs, who has time for plot or dialogue?
About the best thing that can be said of this movie is that won’t scare little kids. Alas, it won’t entertain them either. Adults, waxing nostalgic for Eddie Murphy’s old SNL skits, might be tempted to shout at the screen, “We want Gumby, damnit!”
–Thomas Hibbs, an NRO contributor, wrote an essay for the volume, The Matrix and Philosophy: Welcome to the Desert of the Real.