20 years after Disney offered a 1-2 punch of classic attractions turned feature films, Haunted Mansion attempts to correct the issues of the original Eddie Murphy-led movie that was lapped millions of times over by Johnny Depp's Captain Jack. I had a chance to see a preview screening of the film last night, and wanted to offer my impression of the new movie from a theme park fan's perspective before it opens on Friday.
Justin Simien, directing his first big-time feature film, leads a much more balanced cast than the original through a script that takes about 30 minutes to finally get interesting. That cast, led by Rosario Dawson, LaKeith Stanfield, Owen Wilson, Tiffany Haddish, and Danny DeVito (along with cameos from Jamie Lee Curtis and Jared Leto) do their best to work with the material they're given, but there's just not a lot for them to do here. The reason the movie takes so long to get moving is because their characters just aren't that interesting and the "twists" in the script are completely predictable.
While Murphy's film features a nuclear family trapped, this movie tries to bring broken individuals together. including a single mother (Dawson) and her son (Chase Dillon, the best performance of the lot FWIW), a widowed astrophysicist (Stanfield), a college professor with a heart condition (deVito), a local priest (Wilson), and a mediocre psychic (Haddish). It's certainly a better concept than Murphy's family being split apart by the Mansion, but these new characters are so 1-dimensional that the time spent on their backstory just isn't all that interesting, and at times feels forced, particularly from Stanfield who tries a bit too hard.
However, once all of the characters reach the Mansion, the story finally gets going and the real fun of the movie begins with unending nods to the attraction. If you've ridden The Haunted Mansion more than a half dozen times, the second half of the film makes sitting through the first-half bore-fest almost worth your time. The problem is that if you don't have a intimate knowledge of the ride, a lot of those winks and nods are likely to go over your head, leaving a pretty flat plot to carry you through a 2 hour runtime.
Haunted Mansion is definitely an improvement over the 2003 flop, but something tells me this movie is going to have some tough sledding against "Barbenhiemer", and is likely to end up just as big of a flop as the first Haunted Mansion movie. Disney has found so much success turning POTC into a massive film franchise, but the Haunted Mansion is proving to be a much tougher nut to crack.