"Welcome, foolish mortals," the screen reads at the start of this expensive family film. They're the same words that greet those entering the Disney ride that `inspired' this ridiculous, tedious movie - and `foolish' is the operative word.
That's how you'll feel after wasting money on what's essentially a brochure for a carnival attraction. And it's a glossy brochure at that, heaps of production money having been frittered away to create elaborate sets of musty grandeur and decadent, ornate spookiness. Think Jan De Bont's The Haunting and you're pretty much there, both in the movie's look and quality.
At least the theme-park ride is fun, a rollercoaster carriage juddering from scary room to scary room like some trumped-up ghost train. Here, Stuart Little helmer Rob Minkoff replaces squeaky wheels with a creaky story, then loads everything down with static direction and antiquated performances.
The biggest crime is that Eddie Murphy's talent is kept firmly on a leash, Disney seemingly refusing to let him loose à la Johnny Depp in Pirates Of The Caribbean. Relegated to tired smooth-talker schtick that's sadly lacking the hustler zing he brought to the likes of 48 Hrs and Trading Places, Murphy is - excuse the pun - a ghost of his former self. In fact, if it wasn't for Terence Stamp's ghoulish butler, who delivers his lines with menacing wit, it would be impossible to shake the feeling that Minkoff isn't even interested in such nagging considerations as plot, humour and performances.
The Haunted Mansion is too family-conscious to work as true horror and is more worried about being lavish than funny. Instead, it resides in some weird netherworld, content to recreate the best bits from the theme-park ride for the benefit of the 99 percent who have never even been on it. Now who's going to queue up for that?