When you go into a movie called The Haunted Mansion, featuring Eddie Murphy and a lot of old-dark-house clichés, you expect, at the very least, that Murphy will fire off a few amusing jabs at the spirit world. Instead, you get a moment like this: Wallace Shawn flying a horse-drawn carriage through a forest of electro-blue ghosts, at which point Murphy, seated in the back of the coach, lets loose the immortal line “Excuse me, why are all these ghosts still hanging around here?” I doubt Bob Hope could have squeezed a chuckle out of that one.
”The Haunted Mansion” has the inconsequentiality of a horror-cheese comedy without, necessarily, the comedy. Unlike, say, ”Pirates of the Caribbean,” this is one picture based on a Walt Disney theme-park ride that really aims to deliver…the ride. Murphy may still function as a hook for parents, but his plastic-grinned real estate agent, a genial noodge trapped, along with his wife and kids, in a creaky Victorian fun house, serves as our disappointingly neutral tour guide through a random play zone of kiddified CGI. There are floating musical instruments, a fighting skeleton or two, and Jennifer Tilly as a disembodied soothsayer with greenish skin who drops breathy pronouncements from inside her crystal ball. It should all work fine to amaze, or maybe just pacify, your 4-year-old, but ”The Haunted Mansion” is tame and witless enough to make me long for the ancient, dusty fright kitsch of ”The Munsters.” The one actor who escapes the family-friendly doldrums is Terence Stamp, cast as a manservant so cadaverous he looks like he could bust the ghost of Jacob Marley.