by Dan Howland

The Haunted Mansion

dir. Minkoff

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Who was it that said, "You can't make a horror movie with black people, because the movie starts, they run down the street, that's the end of the movie"? Oh wait, wasn't that Eddie Murphy?

But that was 20 years ago, and today Eddie "Anything-for-a-Buck" Murphy stars in a very traditional haunted house movie, playing smarmy real estate agent Jim Evers. Jim misses all his kids' soccer games and cello recitals, which we know because the screenwriters kindly give his wife Sara (Marsha Thomason) a whole scene to explain it to us. Meanwhile, in the afterlife, an unrequited forbidden love story drags out between the mansion's Master Gracey (Nathaniel Parker) and the beautiful Elizabeth, who happens to look exactly like Sara. Terence Stamp rises above the cornball material as a sinister butler who attempts to thwart their union, and who fulfills at least one of my wishes when he throttles Murphy for talking too much. However, there's a heck of a lot of un-comic relief from Jennifer Tilly as Madame Leota, the head in the crystal ball. She cracks wise, teaching Murphy an important lesson in courage and parenting (and teaching the audience a lesson in Trite Screenplays 101).

If you're a geeky fan, as I am, there are plenty of scenes copped directly from the original Disneyland ride, and most of them are letter-perfect. It's one of the prettiest haunted houses you're ever going to see on screen--but you'll have to ignore Murphy and Tilly to enjoy it.

Will somebody please explain to me why the hell you can see a movie based on The Haunted Mansion, but if you go to Disneyland, they've filled The Haunted Mansion ride with images from The Nightmare Before Christmas? (Way to get the synergy flowing, Eisner!) I'm taking bets on the next Disneyland attraction they're going to screw up as a big-budget movie: The Monorail? The Teacups? Please, please don't make me sit through an It's a Small World movie!