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The Independent Critic

LaKeith Stanfield, Tiffany Haddish, Owen Wilson, Danny DeVito, Rosario Dawson, Chase W. Dillon, Jamie Lee Curtis, Dan Levy, Winona Ryder, Jared Leto, Hasan Minhaj
Justin Simien
Katie Dippold
Rated PG-13
122 Mins.
Walt Disney Pictures

 Movie Review: Haunted Mansion 
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I thought about my childhood often while watching Disney's Haunted Mansion, a franchise wannabe film that squanders its immensely talented cast and yet a film that carries with it enough good will and enough nostalgia that there will be those who appreciate the film for what it is - a solidly midrange no-frills effort that could have been so much more. 

Haunted Mansion reminded me of those childhood Sunday nights sitting at home watching those made-for-TV movies under the Wonderful World of Disney banner that weren't necessarily brilliant films but they were family friendly feel-good films that made me smile even if I did instantly forget the vast majority of them. 

It's a shame, really. For those of us who've been waiting for the immensely talented LaKeith Stanfield to get a mass break-out film, Haunted Mansion definitely could have been it and definitely should have been it. Despite Stanfield's best effort, Haunted Mansion isn't it. 

This PG-13 rated theme park ride adaptation offers litttle more in its just over two-hour running time than a handful of chills, bare minimum thrills, and a few genuinely emotionally honest moments that are almost completely courtesy of Stanfield's ability to turn even mediocre material into something special. In fact, that's the credit that I should really give Haunted Mansion - it proves once and for all that LaKeith Stanfield is one of the finest of this generation's up-and-coming actors. 

Affirming Stanfield's talent should have been enough. It's not. This is especially true because, rather sadly, no one else around him measures up to his performance with the possible exception of young Chase W. Dillon as Travis, the bullied son of Rosario Dawson's Gabbie. 

Stanfield is Ben Matthias, an astrophysicist turned ghost tour operator for whom I would likely even watch the film again. Stanfield's work here is a masterclass in acting against the odds and one can hope he never loses this willingness to surrender himself to a role even when everything that surrounds him measures up to a "meh." 

Set in New Orleans, Haunted Mansion is more a reimagining than an actual remake of Eddie Murphy's 2003 original film. Stanfield's Ben is recruited by a priest (Owen Wilson) to help out Gabbie after it's established that a mansion she recently acquired is, in fact, haunted. 

You probably guessed that part, eh?

Tiffany Haddish, as a psychic, and Danny DeVito, are added to the team and bit players like Jamie Lee Curtis's Madame Leota and Jared Leto's Hatbox Ghost round out the ensemble. 

While Haunted Mansion is a notch above those nostalgic Wonderful World of Disney films, it's hard to escape the fact that this feels like a Disney+ motion picture being offered a brief theatrical run. For a good majority of its running time, Haunted Mansion barely simmers and despite going a bit darker than the original it constantly seems like director Justin Simien (Bad Hair, Netflix's Dear White People) can't quite get a grasp on the complexities of bringing an amusement park ride to cinematic life. There are more stops and starts here than the jalopy in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. The script by Katie Dippold (the female-centered Ghostbusters, The Heat) certainly aims higher than the 2003 effort and Stanfield, in particular, nicely brings to life themes of loss and grief that are centered throughout. However, despite having ample time to do so Haunted Mansion never quite becomes a cohesive whole. 

Music by Kris Bowers is always welcome and easily one of the film's production highlights. 

Fans of the ride will have much to recognize here and it must be said that while Haunted Mansion isn't a particularly good film it's also not a particularly bad one. It's simply a mediocre cinematic blip with a cast capable of providing so much more. Haddish has proven herself capable of being both immensely funny and emotionally vulnerable, though here she's given very little opportunity to display her range. She has good moments for sure, a fact true of DeVito as well. However, Haunted Mansion will be hard-pressed to scare up much in the way of box-office and my guess is it won't be more than a week or two before the folks from Angel Studios will be running ads reminding us that their film is beating Disney at the box-office. 

But I digress. 

Overly long and lacking the chills and thrills to justify it, Haunted Mansion clearly should have opened a week earlier so we could have had Haunted Barbenheimer. 

Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic