Movie: HAUNTED MANSION
Rating: PG-13, some thematic elements and scary action
Release Date: July 28, 2023
Jeanne: Walt Disney Pictures had a fun idea --- create a movie, HAUNTED MANSION, based on one of Disney’s most popular rides at their theme parks. Unfortunately, great thoughts don’t always turn into box office magic.
As I have repeatedly stated, it’s all about the writing. Don’t believe me --- then check out the results from this past weekend’s ticket sales for BARBIE and OPPENHEIMER, two terrific movies with incredibly well-written screenplays. Katie Dippold is responsible for the insipid script driving HAUNTED MANSION, directed with the same lackluster verve by Justin Simien.
The cast assembled is not to blame. Single mother, Gabbie (Rosario Dawson), and son, Travis (Chase W. Dillon), have purchased a rundown, haunted mansion outside the city limits of New Orleans. Enter Ben (LaKeith Stanfield), an ex-astrophysicist now tour guide, who is recruited by Father Kent (Owen Wilson), a priest who no longer performs exorcisms. Ben has developed a camera which can detect ghosts, even though he personally doesn’t believe in apparitions. Sigh…
Together, Gabbie, Travis, Fr. Kent, Ben, Professor Bruce Davis (Danny DeVito), a historian, and Harriet (Tiffany Haddish), a psychic, try mightily to eradicate the manor of these supposedly frightful, unwanted guests. Also helping out is Madame Leota (Jamie Lee Curtis), an ancient psychic caught in a crystal ball.
All of these fine comedic actors do their darndest to make HAUNTED MANSION work, but even their best efforts can’t compensate for Ms. Dippold’s less-than-engaging writing. What should have been a lighthearted, entertaining --- and at times fairly frightening --- romp through a very large stately home filled with 999 ghosts, HAUNTED MANSION is instead a rather dreary, unfunny, two-hour dud.
Though there are a few laugh-out-loud moments provided by Wilson, Haddish and Curtis, it simply isn’t enough to sustain interest throughout the film. Even the sets and special effects aren’t particularly exceptional. The séance room is impressive, as is the overall scale of the mansion.
And the costumes by designer Jeffrey Kurland, most notably Madame Leota’s magnificent, beaded headdress, fit in quite well with the theme ride’s range of time periods.
Since HAUNTED MANSION is rated PG-13, parents can drop their teens off at the cineplex for this one. Or keep in mind the option of waiting for Halloween to watch as a family.
Opinion: Wait for VOD
David: I don’t think it’s too much to ask of a comedy about a haunted house, with a cast of likeable actors, that it be fun and funny. Unfortunately, HAUNTED MANSION is neither. Nor is it the least bit scary or creepy.
LaKeith Stanfield, Rosario Dawson, Danny DeVito, Jamie Lee Curtis, Tiffany Haddish and especially Owen Wilson try their best, but they cannot overcome the writing by Katie Dippold, who has done some very good work in the past. DeVito’s “Jersey Mike” commercials are more entertaining. Young Chase W. Dillon does a nice turn as 9-year-old Travis.
Otherwise, the costume design by Oscar nominee Jeffrey Kurland is commendable, especially for Curtis’ lavish gown and headdress. But special effects with the hordes of ghosts (including Jared Leto) are pretty routine.
Director Justin Simien, as well as virtually every cast member, gives high praise to the Disneyland ride “Haunted Mansion”. It was one of his favorites growing up and the inspiration for this movie. HAUNTED MANSION is one of those films where the cast evidently had a much better time making it than those of us watching the finished product.
Opinion: Mild Wait for VOD