Mouse Hunt

(Gore Verbinsky, USA, 1997)


One of my more disconcerting experiences in a cinema occurred when, a few years ago, I found myself heartily and unexpectedly enjoying a movie at a kids matinee. A group of serious and clearly distressed children sitting in front of me went into a huddle, until their spokesperson turned around to ask: "What are you laughing at, mister?"

I half imagined I would hear this pointed question again during Mouse Hunt. It is a film with a 'two tier' approach – much slapstick and corn for kids; an endless stream of crazy lines, cheeky details and cruel humour for adults. The result is an odd hybrid as entertainment, but a very spirited and inventive movie.

The script by Adam Rifkin, director of several unusual B films, juggles various elements in a disconnected and sometimes inelegant way. The Smuntz brothers, Ernie (Nathan Lane) and Lars (Lee Evans), inherit a string factory and an old, dark house from their father Rudolph (William Hickey). They shuffle between the two locations, avoiding irate workers in the former, and struggling to evict a super-smart mouse from the latter.

This mouse is the hero of the movie – although, apart from one delicious vignette, he is imbued with very little character. He neither speaks our language, nor possesses supernatural powers. He simply has the run of the house, and can manoeuvre anyone into direst straits. The scenes of our little hero darting, climbing, sniffing and staring (orchestrated by special effects genius Stan Winston) are the fondest animatronic joy this side of a Tim Burton film.

Debut feature director Gore Verbinsky skilfully employs a high-energy, expressionistic style reminiscent of Danny DeVito's Matilda (1996). He aims for burlesque, and he has the right actors for the job: Lane and Evans handle the pratfalls, grimaces and manic gesticulations with all the aplomb of The Three Stooges. Mercifully, Verbinski does not rely merely on frantic movement and violent collisions, as so many contemporary comedies do: there are actually decent sight gags to be savoured.

There are inconsistencies and confusions in Mouse Hunt, but they interfere little with the fun, momentum and cornball pleasures of the piece. Special mention must be made of Christopher Walken, who makes a meal of his small part as an obsessive pest exterminator. I mean this literally: the scene in which – for scientific purposes – he eats mouse droppings is one of the outrageous highlights of late '90s screen comedy.

MORE Verbinski: The Mexican, The Ring

© Adrian Martin January 1998

Film Critic: Adrian Martin
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