If a horror comedy is neither scary nor funny, then what is it exactly? Well, in this case, it's Haunted Mansion (apparently Disney didn't want to spring for a "The"), a summer movie designed to appeal to those with fond memories of the Disneyland attraction.
In it, a single mother named Gabbie (Rosario Dawson) and her 9-year-old son Travis (Chase W. Dillon) arrive at their new home, a crumbling mansion on a bayou just outside New Orleans — only to find that it's crowded with ghostly tenants.
Scared but undaunted, Gabbie seeks out the help of experts: an exorcism-experienced priest (Owen Wilson), a disillusioned astrophysicist (LaKeith Stanfield), a chatty psychic/medium (Tiffany Haddish) and a history professor (Danny DeVito).
Sounds potentially fun, right? Shouldn't all movies feature a disillusioned astrophysicist, particularly one as charmingly doleful as Stanfield's character? But alas, Haunted Mansion is yet another reminder that the assembling of a great cast does not guarantee a great movie.
Director Justin Simien (Dear White People) and screenwriter Katie Dippold (Ghostbusters) can't seem to find any kind of comedic rhythm; even Haddish, who normally has never met a movie she couldn't steal, is reduced to running around screaming with the rest of the cast.
And maybe the ghosts would be scary, if we could see them, but for most of the movie we barely get a glimpse — until the arrival of a weird creature called the Hatbox Ghost, played by Jared Leto (so unrecognisable you wonder if he sent in a pinch-hitter) and looking oddly like the Grinch on a bad hair day.
There are bits of fun here and there, such as DeVito in a clear plastic raincoat (I don't know why this is funny, but it is), the charming chemistry between Dawson and Stanfield, and Jamie Lee Curtis hamming it up from inside a crystal ball.
And clearly some effort went into the elaborate costumes and production design, though the murkiness of the lighting often makes the details hard to see.
But ultimately, Haunted Mansion feels like the ghost of a movie — just a fleeting shadow, one you can barely remember in the morning. – Review by Moira Macdonald/The Seattle Times/Tribune News Service
A mere ghost of a film