Eddie Murphy provides fun for few of the family in The Haunted Mansion, a tepid supernatural comedy based on a Disney theme park ride. The star plays a workaholic estate agent who drags wife and kids to an ancient manor with a tragic past and ghost-filled present. Tiny tots might find some bits too scary, grown-ups will crave suspense, and everyone will lament the lack of laughs. Only the set design shines in this house of hokum.
In fact, marvelling at the mansion's detail is all there is to do for characters and audience alike in the first half of the film. There's no rush to thicken the plot, which eventually centres on lovesick spirit Edward Gracey (Nathaniel Parker) believing that Murphy's missus (Marsha Thomason) is the key to lifting a long-standing curse. In the midst of this, there's the now-familiar sight of Murphy as a flustered father learning to put his brood before business. If the script had served him funnier lines, perhaps the sentiment wouldn't seem so stale.
"TALENTS GO TO WASTE"
Other talents that go to waste include Wallace Shawn as a helpful house servant and Jennifer Tilly, reduced to a special effect as crystal ball-encased gypsy Madame Leota. Then there's baddie butler Terence Stamp, whose zombie performance suggests he's either completely immersed in his character or as bored as the rest of us.
Speaking of zombies, the best sequence features an attack by the living dead, on loan from one of the Mummy movies. But since it's the only time director Rob Minkoff (Stuart Little) gets a real handle on horror, it doesn't fit with the rest of the kiddie-friendly, unspooky spectacle. Elsewhere, the sappy wrap-up conjures memories of the 1999 film The Haunting. This doesn't sink quite as low, but you're still better off staying indoors.