Disney’s ‘Haunted Mansion’ movie a rickety ride

Spook house story is scary-bad attempt to turn ride into film franchise

Haunted Mansion
In theatres
What: Movie, 122 mins.
When: Fri., July 28
Genre: Comedy
Rating: NN (out of 5)
Why you should watch: If you’re such a big Owen Wilson fan that you’ll watch him in anything, well, this is anything.

The ride is better.

Disney’s latest Haunted Mansion is based on a ride in the corp.’s theme parks, but don’t expect this to be the beginning of a Pirates of the Caribbean-like franchise.

Haunted Mansion is frighteningly bad and while Disney managed to create a string of hits with its ride-based Pirates films, there aren’t enough ideas in Mansion to sustain a trailer.

Watching the filmmakers struggle to find a narrative, like someone plummeting from a tall building grabbing madly for a ledge, I find myself thinking, “What did you expect? It’s a film based on a ride! The source material is an old, amusement park ride.”

And the film feels old and gimmicky, and the effects are one-dimensional. Bits that have been lifted from the ride just seem corny, and the spookiness rarely rises above the level of a shouted “Boo!” The special effects seem dated and punch less compared to the multidimensional worlds on offer in other current films.

And rather than use the haunted house premise as a loose jumping-off point, the filmmakers handcuff themselves and try to jam elements of the ride into the story. It is not a seamless fit.

When the oddball characters find themselves “trapped” in a haunted house, the opportunities for a Knives Out or even Clue-like playfulness seem plentiful. But Haunted Mansion takes itself surprisingly seriously with almost no humour or gentle wit to be found. To summarize the plot further is to give it more credit than it deserves.

Some great actors are wasted in a film that feels like it must have been made by a Disney B Team — though director Justin Simeon created Dear White People and writer Katie Dippold was part of the Parks and Recreation team. Danny DeVito, Rosario Dawson, Jamie Lee Curtis, Tiffany Haddish and especially Owen Wilson all try to breathe something — anything — into this dreary script, like zombie paramedics continuing to pound on the chest of a patient well past saving.

In a world where Barbie is the hottest movie on the planet, Super Mario Bros. is one of the year’s biggest hits and the Lego franchise has proven to be a reliable source of pleasant fun, cross-promo brand-based films can work.

It’s just that this one doesn’t.