Mon, May 21, 2018 04:27 AM
Wednesday, March 8, 2017 issue
2003-12-03 life & times
Murphy has hit with 'Haunted Mansion'
Cletus Turner

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Just looking for a hit was the name of an album by country singer Dwight Yoakam, but that statement could be said for Eddie Murphy. The Saturday Night Live alum has been part of some huge hits, none bigger than Beverly Hills Cop back in the 1980s. However, in recent years, Eddie has seen his fortunes fall. With films like The Golden Child and I, Spy, Murphy's career seemed to be on the rocks. He couldn't get a hit by smacking himself over the head.

Last year, Daddy Day Care seemed to bring Murphy out of his doldrums. The film debuted to the tune of $30 million on its way to $105 million for its run.

Now, Murphy is starring in The Haunted Mansion from Disney. Murphy plays Jim Evers, a real estate agent who wants you to be happy for "Evers and Evers." He is partners with his wife Sara, played by Marsha Thomason, but, somehow, he is the one doing all the work. Because of work, Jim finds he isn't able to attend school plays, ballgames, the normal things that a workaholic dad in the movies misses.

At the beginning of the film, we see Edward Gracey and his wife as they commit suicide. Gracey's wife poisons herself and Gracey hangs himself.

While Jim is out, Sara gets a phone call and a scary voice requests she come to Gracey manor and sign a real estate deal. She doesn't want to go to the manor, but Jim insists that this deal is too good to pass up. While the family is out on a weekend getaway, Jim drives the family to the estate. Naturally, when they arrive, who should be waiting on them but Edward Gracey, played by Nathaniel Parker and his servant Ramsley, played by Terence Stamp. One of the creepiest parts of the film is the huge cemetery next to the house. While it is obvious the cemetery is computer generated, the whole sequence when we first see the graves is excellent.

As in all horror movies today, a flood-covered bridge keeps the family from leaving. Forced to stay the night, the family begins to see things. From strange reflections in mirrors, breathing doors and paintings that come to life, the family realizes the mansion is haunted.

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For a film that comes from a theme ride, the story isn't bad. It is nothing like Pirates of the Caribbean, but is slightly better than The Country Bears. Pirates was successful because the screenplay writers chose to only loosely base the script on the ride's theme. In Haunted, the playwrites made the mistake of following the theme a little too closely.

But, even though the film has "scary" moments that might cause children a fright, the wise cracks and other jokes lighten the mood. The great news is there are no bodily functions present. We don't have to worry about burps and other physical "humor" so many scary/funny movies revert to when all else fails. I think this is mostly due to the fact that Haunted is aimed at the "family" market and that type of humor would not have been appreciated by the adults.

Speaking of adults, it is nice to see a film that is good for kids, but also entertaining for adults. The kids in the theater were as much fun to watch as the movie. Family films aren't always what they're supposed to be, as in the case of the horrid Country Bears, but when they are on target, they can be great. Haunted is in between the two extremes. While it isn't the greatest family film of all time, it is nowhere near the worst.

Murphy can also add another hit film to his list. Although the jury is still out, and word of mouth could hurt business, Haunted should be another $100 million gross movie for Murphy to put on his resume. Disney, after some colossal failures over the years, has finally had two hits back-to-back with Pirates and Haunted. Just look to Dreamworks to see the worst animated film of the year in Sinbad starring Brad Pitt and Michelle Pfeiffer.

Over all, Haunted is a thrill ride not only in Disneyland, but on film as well. It brings adults and children some wholesome family entertainment that isn't often seen these days. While the story can be a little fragmented, the film doesn't die because of the lack of continuity.

3 suns

From around the box office:

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Michael Caine has been mentioned as a possible Alfred for the upcoming Batman. Caine has been nominated for an Oscar for his role in The Cider House Rules. His name has been the only one mentioned for the role.

With Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King looming on the horizon, the movie industry is waiting to see if there will be a breakout hit for this season. It looks like Elf may be the movie to beat. The film actually gained an audience for the past few weeks and its grosses jumped by 17 percent over last week.

Appalachian Regaional
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