Friday December 19, 1997
"Home Alone," with a mouse.
When you can pitch a movie idea in five words, you're talking major studio release, and sure enough, here comes DreamWorks' "Mouse Hunt."
With a three-inch field mouse in the Macaulay Culkin role, and Nathan Lane and Lee Evans doing the honors as his bumbling pursuers, "Mouse Hunt" is a virtual replay of the original "Home Alone." It's darker, meaner, sillier, more scatological, and, in rare moments, funnier. But its comedy notion--two oafs being put through the wringer by a wily little opponent--is identical.
The oafs are the Smuntz brothers, Ernie (Lane) and Lars (Evans), who move into the run-down but architecturally priceless Victorian mansion they've inherited from their father (the late William Hickey), only to learn that it's already occupied by a singularly wise and unaccommodating rodent. The brothers' plan is to clean the place up and sell it to the highest bidder. But before the house, the mouse!
In the ensuing hunt, Ernie and Lars are blown up, burned, dunked in a frozen pond and nearly drowned in sewage. The weird exterminator (Christopher Walken) they hire fares even worse; he's tortured and driven mad (which is the least he deserves, after eating mouse droppings).
Screenwriter Adam Rifkin and first-time director Gore Verbinski, whose work on those Budweiser bullfrog commercials is said to have prepared him for the task, are equal-opportunity pack rats. Besides "Home Alone," they've also borrowed heavily from the Road Runner cartoons, Tom and Jerry, Laurel and Hardy, the Coen brothers, and the French team of Jean-Pierre Jeunet and Marc Caro, whose stylishly macabre "Delicatessen" seems to have contributed a few of the darker ideas.
The reliably outrageous Lane, and Evans, a gifted British stand-up introduced to film audiences in the 1995 "Funny Bones," are doing pretty much straight-on impressions of Laurel and Hardy. Lane even does a signature Oliver Hardy gesture, fluttering his tie at a pair of pretty ladies. But someone should have reminded them to lower the decibels for their frequent screaming fits. Laurel and Hardy were in muted mono. With digital stereo sound, their screeching pierces the brain like darts.
According to the production notes, 60 field mice were trained at various tasks to perform in the movie, and with an occasional assist from animatronic and computer-generated models, not to mention some very clever camera-work, the mouse is a charmer. But it doesn't take long for cute mouse tricks to get old; most of these tricks were old to begin with.
Mouse Hunt, 1997. PG, for language, comic sensuality and mayhem. An Alan Riche/Tony Ludwig production, released by DreamWorks. Director Gore Verbinski. Producers Alan Riche, Tony Ludwig, Bruce Cohen. Screenplay Adam Rifkin. Cinematographer Phedon Papamichael. Editor Craig Wood. Costumes Jill Ohanneson. Music Alan Silvestri. Production design Linda DeScenna. Running time: 1 hour, 37 minutes. Nathan Lane as Ernie Smuntz. Lee Evans as Lars Smuntz. Vickie Lewis as April Smuntz. Maury Chaykin as Alexander Falko. Eric Christmas as The lawyer. Michael Jeter as Quincy Thorpe.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun