The Haunted Mansion (2003)

hauntedmansionIt is a shame that “The Haunted Mansion” has the Eddie Murphy taint all over it. I think there’s a good movie to be made about “The Haunted Mansion” and it doesn’t involve the same old Eddie Murphy tropes we’ve seen in the past fifteen years. Eddie Murphy is once again a dopey work a day man who babbles to himself, and is so self involved he can’t notice his family is right in front of him. It’s the same goofy plot points that count as conflict in Eddie Murphy movies these days. Murphy is one note yet again as workaholic dad Jim Evers, a dopey real estate agent impossibly married to a beautiful woman who is, as always, put upon and ever patient toward his priorities of choosing work over family. When Jim’s wife Sara is called to an old mansion to oversee the property, Jim tags along hoping to garner a sale.

Gradually, Jim and his family realize the people within the mansion are ghosts and the owner of the mansion Nathaniel has plans for Sara. I was never too clear on the specifics of the mansions curse. All we’re told is that the people within are cursed, and owner Nathaniel must marry Sara (who is a descendant of his long lost wife Elizabeth, conveniently) in order to allow the ghosts to move on. It’s all masterminded by Nathaniel’s butler Ramsley, for some reason. It’s never explained why Elizabeth inexplicably shows up in the end, or what leads to Ramsley’s ultimate undoing in the finale. That said, the whole family nonsense just feels completely tacked on and is even more ill fitted in a movie about a gigantic haunted mansion that has to do with one of Disney World’s most iconic attractions. It’s shocking this is a movie with Rick Baker behind it, and yet his work is lost in a hail of bad writing, nonsensical narrative, and Murphy’s painful comical over acting.

Baker’s make up is the only aspect of “The Haunted Mansion” that shines. His make up and prosthetics are just on point and incredible to look at on screen, especially during a moment when decrepit zombies begin creeping from their tombs to terrorize Murphy’s character. Everyone else seems about as forced as possible, including Terrence Stamp who recites every line of dialogue as if he’s at gun point. Meanwhile Eddie Murphy is somewhere between Donkey from “Shrek,” and Don Knotts in “The Ghost and Mr. Chicken.” Everyone else is just about lost in the shuffle, including talented character actors like Wallace Shawn and Dina Waters. Murphy has zero chemistry with his co-stars, and spends a lot of the time chewing the scenery alongside Stamp. “The Haunted Mansion” garners some wonderful set design, excellent cinematography, and brilliant make up effects by Rick Baker.

These are ingredients for a gloriously dark fantasy in the vein of “Pan’s Labyrinth.” Sadly, it’s all reduced to an inferior bit of dull, tedious, and plodding family fare. Maybe someday when Disney is done feeding us unnecessary remakes of their classic animated movies, maybe they can give this vehicle a much deserved reboot.