House of Fun

Eddie Murphy's trapped in The Haunted Mansion, and it's a good ride.

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The Haunted Mansion
Eddie Murphy plays a Type-A movie dad who gets his comical comeuppance.
Eddie Murphy plays a Type-A movie dad who gets his comical comeuppance.
Like the Disneyland ride upon which it's based, The Haunted Mansion opens with a spooky voice intoning, "Welcome, foolish mortals!" Scary objects, like candelabra and Tarot cards, float in front of the screen, and we're then treated to a nicely wordless sequence from the 19th century, a Romeo and Juliet-type deal involving aristocrat Edward Gracey and a masked woman we don't see clearly (for reasons that are fully explained later). She poisons herself, he hangs himself, and presumably this leads to the horror that haunts the mansion's walls, and so on and so forth.

Enter the present day. Following a cheap scare that serves to remind us that indeed, the house is still haunted, we're introduced to Jim Evers (Eddie Murphy, sporting a cheesy grin), a real estate agent who wants you to be happy "for Evers and Evers!" His wife, Sara (Marsha Thomason), appears to be a partner in the company, yet he seems to be doing all the work and, in the process, missing his children's sports games and such, the defining trait of all movie dads about to receive comical comeuppance.

Evers gets his when a scary English-accented voice calls his wife on the phone and insists she come to Gracey Manor to sign a real-estate deal. She demurs, but Jim can't resist a house of that caliber, so he decides that, en route to a weekend family vacation, they'll stop by and check it out. After driving through a creepy forest and looking out upon a huge CG-enhanced matte painting of a graveyard, the Evers family finds itself at the dinner table of the Gracey mansion, in the company of Edward and his odd butler Ramsley (Terence Stamp, made up to be an even creepier caricature of himself than usual).

After rain floods the nearest bridge, forcing the Everses to stay the night, a literal translation of the Disneyland ride unfolds. The family wanders through halls, past scary pictures that come to life, doors that breathe like Darth Vader, mirrors containing dubious reflections, and secret passages. They encounter digital phantoms along the way, including the ride's hitchhiker ghosts and the disembodied Gypsy head, Madame Leota (Jennifer Tilly). For those of you who've never been able to afford a trip to the Disney parks, or even those who simply don't want to pay exorbitant admission prices, you finally get to share the fun. Kids love a good ghost story, but many cinematic ones are either R-rated or hopelessly cheesy, like Casper. This movie should satisfy, at least until the disappointing climax.

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