DAILY FILM DOSE: A Daily Film Appreciation and Review Blog: Mousehunt

Monday 28 March 2011


Mousehunt (1997) dir. Gore Verbinski
Starring Nathan Lane, Lee Evans, Christopher Walken


By Alan Bacchus

I have to admit, I have a soft spot for this one. Have an open mind and dig into the vaults to find this film. Mousehunt is actually a hidden gem that defies expectations. And if you recognize the director, indeed, it’s the helmer of the Pirates of the Caribbean films and now Rango, as well as the decent remake of The Ring. So, for reasons I'll summarize below, Mousehunt got him the Pirates gig and jumpstarted his career.

Ernie and Lars Schmuntz are brothers whose father has just died and bequeathed to them the family business of string manufacturers. They are also in receipt of an old run-down mansion. Ernie (Nathan Lane), the responsible one who is now a successful chef, wants the house and business sold so he can claim his share of the money, and Lars (Lee Evans), the childish one, has a soft spot for Dad and wants to keep the house and run the family business.

Ernie and Lars move into the house together to determine whether they should keep it or sell it. On their first night they discover that a pesky mouse has made a home there as well. Ernie and Lars go through a multitude of scenarios to trap the mouse. As their frustration over the mouse’s resilience grows and grows, so does the grandness of their traps.

Meanwhile, a real estate speculator has discovered that the house is in fact a lost treasure from a Frank Lloyd Wright-type of architect named George La Rue. Instantly, their money pit makes them almost-millionaires. They decide to auction off the house to the highest bidder, which fuels their desire to clean it up and exterminate the mouse.

The bumbling duo eventually manages to excise the mouse only to have it miraculously return on the day of the auction. The finale is a madcap series of Rube Goldberg consequences that may or may not jeopardize their chances of selling the house and getting rich.

Mousehunt is a visual delight – a live-action equivalent of a Tom and Jerry cartoon mixed with Tim Burton sentimentality and the manic, madcap pace of a Coen Bros film. Admittedly, Verbinski’s influences border on outright theft, but the mash-up is very clever in the detailed mechanisms of the narrative. The film elegantly mixes its grand scale action and comedy with quiet moments of genuine sentiment. The 'big' scenes go way over the top to satisfy the kids, but it's the quick gags in the dialogue and the reflective moments that make the film a little gem. And watch for the wicked cameo from Christopher Walken.

If anything, the leads Lane and Evans are the weakest link. They seem to try too hard to be funny, too concerned with channeling Abbott & Costello or Laurel & Hardy instead of bringing their own comic personalities to the roles. And in that way, the humour often feels forced.

It’s easy to see how this became Verbinski’s calling card film. His compositions, production design, and editing, as well as his natural skill for crafting exciting action sequences, obviously caught the eye of Mr. Jerry Bruckheimer, who gave him the keys to the Pirates franchise. You should take a chance on this one too.

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