Wednesday, 26 June 2019

Prime Time: Mousehunt (1997)

There are some movies that you form a surprisingly strong attachment to. I'm not on about those films regarded as absolute classics. I'm not on about those films that you saw at the cinema and were immediately blown away by. I'm on about the kind of films that don't get talked about too often, yet you used to own, on either VHS or shiny disc, haven't seen in a while, and then immediately fall immediately in love with (again) when you revisit them after a gap of many years.

Mousehunt is one of those movies for me. When I clicked on the "start watching" button, I immediately remembered how many times I had watched the thing when I bought it on VHS. I could recite almost every line, and I never tired of it. I was like a child with a beloved Disney favourite.

But what's it all about? I'll tell you, although the title sums it up adequately.

Two brothers, Ernie Smuntz (Nathan Lane) and Lars Smuntz (Lee Evans) come together to claim their inheritance after the death of their father (Rudolph Smuntz, played by William Hickey). The inheritance comes to a seemingly paltry amount. There are some old cigars, a string factory that doesn't look likely to become a big money-maker, and an old house. Amazingly, the house turns out to have been the work of a very famous architect. It is a "lost" masterpiece. Determined to renovate the house and sell it for a life-changing amount of money, the brothers get to work. And that's when they start to become frustrated by an extra, unwanted, house guest. A mouse. But this mouse is smarter than most.

This comedy works as well as it does because it benefits from a number of people doing work that is up there with their very best stuff. I can't think of anything from writer Adam Rifkin that tops this, so it's his absolute high point, and director Gore Verbinski may have a number of other films that could be considered better, but very few of them are as much fun.

As for the stars, both Lane and Evan are comic actors I have enjoyed in a variety of roles. They work perfectly here, playing to their strengths, with the former getting the best lines and the latter allowed to go over the top with the physical gags. If the film only involved those two actors and the mouse then I would have been happy, but there are more people joining in the fun. Maury Chaykin is the man most interested in bidding for the house, Vicki Lewis is the ex-wife of Evans, and has a couple of great scenes with him, and Christopher Walken almost steals the film away from everybody with his wonderful turn as Caesar, the exterminator called in when other plans to get rid of the mouse have failed.

There are at least half a dozen magnificent set-pieces, a delightfully playful score by Alan Silvestri, a mouse so cute that it tucks itself into a little "bed" when about to go to sleep, and a great energy throughout that builds and builds towards a frenetic and hilarious grand finale. Some may think I have rated this too highly. I would urge those people to revisit the movie and come back to me with any major criticisms. It's a near-perfect comedy that works for almost every member of the family.


You can buy the movie here.
Americans can buy it here.

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