PLOT In New Orleans, a single mother tries to rid her house of ghosts.
CAST LaKeith Stanfield, Rosario Dawson, Tiffany Haddish
RATED PG-13 (mildly scary moments)
WHERE Area theaters
BOTTOM LINE Despite a lively cast and a promising director, this Disney comedy barely has a pulse.
If you’re a fan of The Haunted Mansion, Disney’s kitschy-gothy theme-park ride, you might be looking forward to the studio’s big-screen adaptation. “Haunted Mansion” arrives with a hip young director, an eclectic cast and a mission to bring a little color to a genre that usually hinges on dead Anglo-Saxon aristocrats. What’s not to love?
Beware, foolish mortals: “Haunted Mansion” can’t hold a floating candelabra to the original ride, or even the widely panned film version from 2003. That movie, you may remember, already scored a few points for diversity by casting Eddie Murphy as a real estate broker. This reboot isn’t a radical departure or an ambitious reinvention. It just adds a sloppy new coat of paint to an existing intellectual property.
LaKeith Stanfield plays Ben, a New Orleans widower and tour guide with a bleak outlook. “Life is dirt,” he barks as he leads visitors through his famously haunted city. When a single mother, Gabbie (Rosario Dawson), and her shy 9-year-old, Travis (Chase W. Dillon), move into a ghost-plagued pile called Gracey Manor, they seek help from Ben, who happens to be a former astrophysicist and the inventor of a specter-detecting camera.
Would you believe the screenwriter is Katie Dippold, of “Ghostbusters?” She comes up with a mixed bag of characters here, including Father Kent (a laid-back Owen Wilson), the French Quarter psychic Harriet (an uneven Tiffany Haddish) and Tulane University professor Bruce Davis (an excitable Danny DeVito). The movie’s attempts to reverse-engineer the ride into a narrative feel even less inspired: Jamie Lee Curtis squeezes herself into the role of Madame Leota — the white-haired head in the giant crystal ball — while Jared Leto’s voice for the Hatbox Ghost might be the corniest Boris Karloff imitation since “The Monster Mash.”
Director Justin Simien, creator of the hit film and series “Dear White People,” deserves credit for paying tribute to New Orleans’ Black history (when the requisite ghostly musicians materialize, they’re more blues band than chamber group) but the movie as a whole is a mess. The scares come out of nowhere with virtually no build-up, the jokes are middling — is Harriet in a trance, or just asleep? — and Stanfield, though a fine actor, has a melancholy aura that seems wrong for a big, commercial comedy like this. (You’ll miss Murphy’s thousand-watt smile and Disney-ready energy.)
At one point, Guillermo del Toro was set to direct this movie; at another, Ryan Gosling was the star. Those projects sounded odd but promising. This one is dead on arrival.