Humor and heart get conjured up in this fun ride-to-film transition.
20 years ago, we had the Eddie Murphy film version of the popular Disneyland ride “The Haunted Mansion,” which didn’t work and ended up being forgettable. 20 years later, we have “Haunted Mansion,” which mostly works for its emotional side and likable performances from Lakeith Stanfield, Tiffany Haddish, Owen Wilson, and Danny DeVito than a few of its other formulas.
Director Justin Simien (“Dear White People,” “Bad Hair”) gives some fun vibes with the sets, and writer Katie Dippold (“The Heat”) adds some emotional aspects in some of the characters, and they both manage to have the kind of ride-to-movie transition that “Pirates of the Caribbean” had. Certainly much more entertaining than how Dwayne Johnson and Emily Blunt led “Jungle Cruise.”
Rosario Dawson plays a mother named Gabbie who dresses up like she’s a housewife in the 50s-60s, and her son Travis (Chase W. Dillion) dresses up like a 40s kid. They both move into an old mansion in New Orleans, as a way to restart their lives and possibly open up a B&B. After all, there’s no way they can afford to live a big mansion for just the two of them without, at least, a business opportunity. The minute they arrive at their new abode, Travis starts to get haunted by ghosts and moving knight’s armor. And just as Gabbie thinks the house is toying with his imagination, she sees the moving knight’s armor, and says: “We’re outta here.”
So pays a drunken tour guide named Ben (Lakieth Stanfield) to take pictures of the apparitions in her house, as he was fascinated by paranormal research, until a tragedy destroyed him. He arrives thinking it’s all a joke, but then the spirits begin to follow him home. So, it’s no joke. It’s real AF.
With the help of a priest named Father Kent (Owen Wilson,) a medium named Harriet (Tiffany Haddish), and a historian named Bruce Davis (Danny DeVito), Ben must find a way to end whatever Hellish activities have been plaguing the house for years.
“Haunted Mansion” goes for the emotional jugular when Ben cries over his tragic past, when he lost his wife (Charity Jordan), and wishes he could reunite with her spirit, at least. And the same applies for the kid and his father. Stanfield does a good job in that notion, and he has a likable connection with Haddish, Wilson, and DeVito.
I’m not a fan of the ghosts, who are too superficial to be supernatural. And there could have been more basis to Jamie Lee Curtis as Madame Leota (who lives in the crystal ball) and Jared Leto as the Hatbox Ghost, who is the cause of the mansion’s horrors. But most of the human characters, as well as their levity and energy make for one exciting ride, I’d say for older kids, teenagers, and adults who trust in Simien’s skills. He’s transitioned from the independent filmmaking game to the Disney world, and he does a wickedly good job at it.
And I also admire the themes New Orleans have to offer, especially the way the characters are able to adapt to whatever wicked this way comes. It refuses to condescend anyone, and for a family horror comedy, it doesn’t go for the sad and dreary approach. It goes for the goofy sense. Pun intended.
This article was written by me with full support of the SAG-AFTRA and Writers Guild of America strikes.