Sure, making a movie out of a Disney theme-park ride didn't sound promising, but that didn't stop Pirates Of The Caribbean from turning out much better than it had any right to be. Compared to The Haunted Mansion, however, it already looks like the exception that proves the rule, the one moment when corporate synergy worked between 2002's The Country Bears and 2009's Pecos Bill Café: The Movie. As the husband half of a husband-and-wife real-estate team, Eddie Murphy plays pained straight man to two whiny kids and a creepy old house buzzing with CGI effects. It's a credit to the strength of Murphy's newfound resignation to playing harried dads that he never lets the pain he must be experiencing poke through his characters. On screen, he used to be a comic force of nature. Now, he quietly approaches doors adorned with giant metal ornaments and never even cracks a knowing smile when saying, "Look at the size of those knockers." The Haunted Mansion has the what-the-fuck-is-going-on feel of a movie written long after the special effects had been commissioned. In attempting to rescue wife Marsha Thomason from lovelorn ghost Nathaniel Parker, Murphy and his kids run into a barbershop quartet of concrete busts, befriend the specter of Wallace Shawn, evade zombies, and get help from the disembodied head of Jennifer Tilly as if simply stopping at so many points on a thrill ride. But unlike the original Haunted Mansion attraction, it's not a good thrill ride, nonsensically plotted but paced like a throbbing headache so no one will notice. It's also hard to figure out who this movie is supposed to delight: It's too scary for little kids and not nearly scary enough for anyone allowed to rent The Ring without getting carded. The only possible reaction belongs to Terence Stamp. Playing a ghostly butler prone to saying "mah-sta" at every opportunity, he wears an expression of annoyance and boredom perfected by centuries of practice.
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If Jesse Armstrong wanted Jeremy Strong to jump in a river, he would have put it in the script