MOUSE HUNT (1997)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 38 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG for Language, Comic Sensuality and Mayhem

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Directed by: Gore Verbinski

Written by: Adam Rifkin

Starring: Nathan Lane, Lee Evans, Vicki Lewis, Maury Chaykin, Camilla Soeberg, Debra Christofferson, Christopher Walken & William Hickey

MOUSE HUNT has the distinction of being the first-ever family film from DreamWorks. Despite being intended for kids as well as adults, the movie tries too hard to make things equally enjoyable for both age groups but in very different ways. Sometimes, the movie is a well-intentioned and genuinely funny romp that has a surprising level of sophistication around it. About an equal amount, the film turns into a live-action TOM & JERRY episode. Sadly, both approaches don’t blend together well or coherently. There are a decent amount of laughs in the well-intentioned parts of the movie that focus on a creative screenplay where everything doesn’t result in a pratfall.

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Lars and Ernie Smuntz are the two sons of a formerly rich proprietor of a string factory. Leaving not much of an inheritance to his sons (some knick-knacks, a rundown factory, and an abandoned house in the middle of nowhere), Lars and Ernie find their lives upended through two separate acts of fate. Things seem to be changing for the better when the brothers find out that their father’s countryside property is actually the legendary abandoned house of a famed architect that’s worth millions. Blinded by the possibility of a fortune, the Smuntz siblings embark on renovating the house. This process is made difficult and destructive by a mouse that’s smarter than your average rodent.

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MOUSE HUNT has an identity crisis between being a kids movie about a mouse outwitting two grown men or a raunchy comedy that happens to have a seemingly indestructible rodent as a plot device. The former doesn’t work quite as well as it wants to and the latter feels like it’s pushing the boundaries for what’s appropriate in a family flick. There are utterances of notable swear words that I’m sure parents don’t want their young ones picking up. Also there’s frank talk about sex and some risqué humor. One stand-out scene is a moment near the end that made me laugh hard, but didn’t fit at all within the boundaries of a PG-rated family flick. It’s like how CASPER (a film that came out a couple of years prior) threw in curse words for the sake of being edgy and was bound to irritate some parents. I almost always praise family entertainment that takes risks, but there’s also a certain level of content that should be avoided if you’re making a movie that’s specifically geared towards children and MOUSE HUNT rubbed me the wrong way in a few areas.

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The performances from the cast are well above the level of material they’ve ended up working with. Nathan Lane and Lee Evans are a good comedic duo and it makes you wonder that if this film had been more well-received, they could have possibly have gone on starring in more family films together. At any rate, they both highlight different styles of comedy. Nathan Lane is Ernie and the more brash of the brothers. Lee Evans delivered more laughs as Lars, but came off as the goofy screw-up. The late William Hickey also makes his last film appearance as their father, seen in one flashback and appearing in a painting with multiple expressions. Christopher Walken also takes a brief cameo-length role that has a few chuckles, but ultimately winds up being entirely pointless. It literally felt like someone felt they should hire Walken for a day to be an exterminator and he’s in the film for about five minutes at the most.

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It may sound like I’m bad mouthing MOUSE HUNT quite a bit. It’s true that I don’t consider it to be a necessarily good movie and I found it a lot funnier when I was a kid watching this on the old-fashioned VCR, but there are still some solid laughs in the film. Ironically, the best scenes don’t involve the title animal at all. The opening is solid enough and showcases dark humor that may have pushed the envelope for kids material at the time. My favorite part is a three-minute bit with Lee Evans at the string factory that was filled with stellar slapstick. I had fun revisiting this movie, but I don’t think I’ll ever go out of my way to watch it again.

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MOUSE HUNT feels too episodic in moving from one set piece to another. It also can’t make up its mind about whether it wants to be for kids or adults. It doesn’t seem to have the level of talent down to please both demographics and it’s doubtful to completely satisfy anyone. There’s a fun pieces of slapstick here or there and some jokes are legitimately funny. The actors all do well in their roles, but the identity crisis and confusing tonal shifts of the film will throw many off completely liking it. Nostalgia be damned, MOUSE HUNT is not a good movie. I can say it’s an okay effort that isn’t horrible or mediocre. That’s hardly the praise you’d want for family entertainment though, especially in an era where there are so many better options from the past and present.

Grade: C+

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