The Austin Chronicle

Mouse Hunt

Rated PG, 98 min. Directed by Gore Verbinski. Starring Nathan Lane, Lee Evans, Christopher Walken, Maury Chaykin, Eric Christmas, Annabelle Gurwitch, William Hickey, Michael Jeter, Vicki Lewis.

REVIEWED By Marc Savlov, Fri., Dec. 19, 1997

It's interesting that this dark and energetic autobahn of a comedy from DreamWorks SKG (the K is for Jeffrey “I Used to Run Disney” Katzenberg) has at its center an evil mouse -- evil mice never having been Disney's forte (in fact it only took writer Harlan Ellison one mis-timed crack about Mickey to get him permanently banned from the studio some years ago). Mouse Hunt's rodent isn't evil in a bad way, mind you, just with a touch of malice aforethought. When you get right down to it, this is actually Home Alone with a rodent in place of Macaulay Culkin, which does little for Culkin's already ratty rep since Mouse Hunt is head and tiny ears above anything John Hughes has ever churned out. Lane and Evans play Ernie and Lars Smuntz, siblings who inherit a dilapidated (and improbably valuable) mansion when their father (William Hickey in his last screen role) passes away. Dear old dad also leaves them in charge of his once-great string factory, which quickly becomes a financial burden. In hopes of selling off the house, they set about renovating it only to discover its lone occupant -- The Mouse -- enjoys things status quo. What follows is some of the most inventive, wanton, hilarious slapstick, pratfalls, and all-around mayhem I've seen in a long, long time. Land and Evans bounce off each other with visible comic glee. They're obviously strip-mining territory first plundered by Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy (at one point, a flustered Lane gives a pair of buxom beauties the old necktie waggle), but Mouse Hunt is so spastically inventive that it's more of a homage than outright theft. Walken makes a rare comedy appearance as the deranged exterminator Caesar, who quickly finds there is no such thing as a better mousetrap, while Lewis is nicely rapacious as Lars' gold-digging wife April. The real stars of Mouse Hunt, though, are the animatronic and computer-generated mouse effects by Stan Winston and Rhythm & Hues, respectively. There's a real rodent in there somewhere, but the effects are blended so seamlessly (along with a dangerous feline, the aptly named Catzilla) that the little furball takes on a life of his own. Kudos also to Linda DeScenna's (Blade Runner) wonderfully dreary, Forties-period production design, which makes everything here look as though it hadn't been dusted since the turn of the century. Kids and adults both will howl at Lane and Evans' Rube Goldberg-esque shenanigans, as they struggle to keep dignity in the face of encroaching mousy malfeasance (though some brief, bawdy humor may soar right over Junior's head). Absolutely one-hundred-percent ridiculous, this is comedy of a higher order, and more maniacally inspired than almost anything released in years.

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