Opening today at a multiplex near everyone:
HAUNTED MANSION (Dir. Justin Simien, 2023)
20 years ago, there was a movie called HAUNTED MANSION, that, like this one, was based on the Disney dark park ride/tour that I’ve actually been on around a decade ago on a trip to Florida. I never saw the 2003 version, because I dismissed it as yet another lame Eddie Murphy vehicle (there were a lot of those at the time), but I’m wishing I had skipped the new one as it is as unscary as it is unfunny, with a chemistry-less cast giving us some tired-ass ghost story which it wants to be as hip as BEETLEJUICE, but it ain’t even up to CASPER standards.
I don’t even care how similar the plot it is to the original, but this time around begins with Rosario Dawson as a plucky single mother, and her son Travis (Chase Dillon) moving into the most rustic and most clichéd-looking, ancient New Orleans house and immediately finding out that there are ghosts there and that once you step inside the house, you’ll be haunted wherever you go.
LaKeith Stanfield shows up as an astrophysicist turned paranormal expert, whose wife has recently died as we learn from mawkish flashbacks, with other house guests including a laid-back priest played by Owen Wilson, a gruff history professor portrayed by Danny DeVito, and most obnoxiously, Tiffany Haddish as a medium who attempts to steal scenes, but her arsenal of lame one-liners stops her way short.
There’s also the house’s former psychic, Madame Leota (a game Jamie Lee Curtis), and the film’s villain, the Hatbox Ghost (Jared Leto, daring you to recognize him), who our Dawson, and Stanfield-led team go up against in a series of ho-hum hallway chases, and séances, while they bond, and deal with their grief. It’s a thoroughly unimpressive experience, but then I didn’t care for the ride either. The premise is as ancient as the mansion, with the mysteries surrounding the ghosts failing to keep me engaged as well.
When one says that a movie has its moments, they usually mean more than the one or two that this has (and spread over 123 min!), but I will say that the cast did their best with the dire material – especially Haddish, who had to spout out sitcom-ish lines about CVS, and Costco; the effects by the usually reliable Industrial Light & Magic were good (but not scary), and, uh, well, that’s all I got for the pluses.
So basically, BARBENHEIMER has nothing to fear from HAUNTED MANSION this weekend.
I think screenwriter Katie Dippold (Parks & Recreation, THE HEAT, 2016’s GHOSTBUSTERS) can, and will do better than this rubbish of a re-imagining, which at least will likely end up having a higher rating on Rotten Tomatoes than the 2003 original, which stands at 14%. But it really doesn’t deserve much higher than that.