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Wednesday, November 26, 2003 - Page updated at 10:19 A.M.

Few frights in 'Mansion' except lame plot, acting

By Moira Macdonald
Seattle Times movie critic

Eddie Murphy, left, and Jennifer Tilly star in "The Haunted Mansion."
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It would be lovely to report that "The Haunted Mansion" is as happy a surprise as "Pirates of the Caribbean," this year's earlier movie based on a Walt Disney theme park attraction. Well ... it would also be lovely if all movies starred Johnny Depp, and Diet Coke spurted out for free at public drinking fountains, and multiplexes had reclining chairs so that weary moviegoers could take naps when needed. None of these things are true either, so what can I say? You move on.

Anyway, "The Haunted Mansion" is just good enough to be tolerable, but only that. (Kids with a fondness for being a-little-bit-scared will likely be more forgiving — my 8-year-old companion had a swell time.) Eddie Murphy, seemingly on autopilot, plays ambitious New Orleans real-estate agent Jim Evers, who's wrapped up in his work and has too little time for his wife and two children. A call from a mysterious potential client brings all four of the Everses to a crumbling, candelabra-laden mansion, where ghosts are encountered, secrets from the past are brought to light, and Jim learns to treasure his family.

The film feels deliberately paced, almost sluggish, but perhaps that's just in comparison with hopped-up, video-game-like kid flicks like "Spy Kids 3" or "Looney Tunes: Back in Action." The problem here isn't so much the pace as the too-predictable story and the general lack of energy; director Rob Minkoff ("Stuart Little") can't seem to light a fire under his cast.

Movie review

Showtimes and trailer

"The Haunted Mansion," with Eddie Murphy, Terence Stamp, Nathaniel Parker, Marsha Thomason, Jennifer Tilly, Wallace Shawn. Directed by Rob Minkoff, from a screenplay by David Berenbaum, based on Walt Disney's Haunted Mansion ride. 88 minutes. Rated PG for frightening images, thematic elements and language. Several theaters.

Murphy gives the same wisecracky, broadly pitched performance he always gives; it's as if he faxed it in from another set (maybe he's seen "Timeline"?), and he's got little chemistry with Marsha Thomason, who plays his wife. (For those who've noticed that actresses in movies are getting ever more youthful these days, note that the lovely Thomason, who's in her mid-20s and looks younger, plays the mother of a 13-year-old.) The smaller roles fare better: Terence Stamp has a lovely deadpan as the ghostly butler Ramsley (he's the character, key in any ghost story, who's always sneaking up on people); Wallace Shawn sputters his lines with great glee.

The real stars of the movie are a nifty barbershop quartet, made up of four stone busts in a graveyard who sing with spot-on harmony, and the elegant designs of John Myhre (production) and Mona May (costumes). At times, "The Haunted Mansion" resembles a particularly posh production of "The Phantom of the Opera," minus the chandelier — and, alas, minus the story.

Moira Macdonald: 206-464-2725 or


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