Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Tuesday's Forgotten (or Overlooked) Film: MOUSE HUNT (1997) Starring Nathan Lane and Lee Evans

Today is Forgotten (or Overlooked) Film Tuesday, a weekly meme hosted by Todd Mason at his blog, SWEET FREEDOM. So don't forget to check in over there and see what other forgotten or overlooked films and assorted audio/visuals other boggers are talking about today. It's always a fun mix.

It's hard to believe my movie entry for today is already 15 years old. The 90's seem like yesterday - well, they were yesterday, but fifteen years? Time flies.

At any rate, I'm a big fan of Nathan Lane so already I was inclined to like today's movie before I saw it and while MOUSE HUNT wasn't as terrific as it could have been, it was quite terrific enough for me. (Most of the funny scenes involved the mouse, I admit.) There were a few things in the film I could have done without, including the ugliest cockroach in the history of cockroaches appearing on the dinner table at a fancy restaurant where Nathan Lane's character, Ernie Smuntz, is the head chef and owner.

Enter cockroach, exit patrons and goodbye restaurant.

But let's back up a bit to the beginning. The very elderly Mr. Smuntz (William Hickey at his wizened, cranky best), owner of a string factory - you know, a place that makes string - why not - somebody's gotta' make it.  Anyway, the film begins as the old man's  funeral is ongoing.

When out on the steps in the rain, the coffin slips from its perch...well, you can imagine the rest. It's to be expected but it IS funny and how wrong can it be to begin a comedy with a good, disrespectful laugh?

Ernie Smuntz (Nathan Lane) and his hapless brother Lars (Lee Evans) inherit the ancient string factory which is debt-ridden and practically worthless and an empty mansion out in the countryside. When Ernie's restaurant is done in by the giant cockroach - the shock of which kills the town's mayor who is the night's honored guest - Ernie is forced to close. The only asset he and Lars have left is the aforementioned empty, run-down mansion which they decide to renovate and sell and make a ton of money. (And maybe then, Lars' wife won't leave him.)

The house is in bad shape since it's been unoccupied for years, but the mystery is why it's sat empty for so long and why the old man never mentioned it. Rumors abound that the last family that tried to live in the house fled from the place in terror.

Ernie and Lars are about to find out why. It seems the house has an occupant who doesn't like being annoyed, doesn't like to share, and most especially doesn't like it when attempts are made on his life.

That's it. That's the basic plot:

Two idiot humans pitting their 'wits' against a mouse who at times appears to have super-human intelligence. At least, he's able to outwit Ernie and Lars at every turn (which isn't saying a whole hell of a lot when you come right down to it). Of course, you will soon be rooting for the mouse.

Especially once you check out his tiny little room within the bowels of the house where apparently he lives alone and always has. He even has a little bed (a sardine can, I think - stuffed with cotton) and little bits and pieces of mousey 'furniture' - oh, so cute you can't help going 'awwww!' Which everyone in the theater did. (I saw the film when it first came out.)

As Ernie and Lars attempt to gut and renovate, they come up against the machiavellian resistance of this little rodent who doesn't suffer fools gladly - he thwarts the two humans at every turn.

The best scenes are those where we see what is going on from the mouse's point of view. Most everything is telegraphed so the human antics aren't quite as funny as they should be, but the mouse makes the movie. He is pitiless in protecting his turf and the fact that it appears mostly to be a real mouse adds a certain charm to its machinations. Hey, the little guy is just trying to stay alive.

Ernie Smuntz bent on revenge!

Christopher Walken as the exterminator from hell

There is one very unfunny sequence in which a fiendish exterminator (Christopher Walken, of all people) is hired to get rid of the mouse - a few laughs, but not as many as there should have been. Walken is so 'over-the-top' that his few minutes on film bring the whole thing to an absolute screeching stop. He almost appears to have stumbled in from another movie.

Lee Evans as Lars also suffers from 'over-the-top' syndrome, but not as deadly as Walken. The movie's director, Gore Verbinski could have toned things down, but maybe those things that needed 'toning' seemed funnier in real life than on film. Who knows?

Still, there is more than enough fun left in the movie to make up for the skits that fail.

I recommend this film for three reasons. (The fact that my mother loved it doesn't really count, I suppose.)

So what are the reasons, you ask?

1) The mouse. 

The mouse scenes are brilliantly done. At certain points you even imagine you can see the little critter thinking. This is where the term 'movie magic' comes in. See this movie for the mouse, you will be rewarded. Nathan Lane up-staged by a mouse? Yes.

2) Production design by Linda Descenna and Art Direction by Jim Nedza.

The film's setting (a small city or town and its outskirts) is never identified, but it looks like a Middle European town might have looked in the 1950's. (Or at least how I imagine it might have looked.) I don't know why I say that, you'll have to see the film to understand what I mean.

The look of the movie is VERY quirky. Most everything is done is shades of gray, brown and sepia-tone and reminded me of the sort of place Papa Gepetto and Pinocchio might have lived once upon a time. But it's supposed to be modern day. Even quirkier is the string factory. The ancient interior and string-making machinery appear to be of the clunky 'rube goldberg' variety. I mean, it is awe-inspiring in its pre-historic, other-worldly ingeniousness. The moment I saw it I knew I was in the presence of design genius. It's like 1902 but not.

3) Last but never least: The final shot of the two brothers and the mouse is worth the price of admission. How the whole fiasco is finally resolved is wonderfully inventive and makes perfect sense, considering what went on before.

Two nitwits in search of a mouse.

Watch one of several trailers here. 


  1. I remember quite liking this one (especially the set-piece with all the traps on the floor), especially its Tim Burton-esque look, though the viewing experience was a bit skewed for me. This is because it's one of two quite big Hollywood movies (the other is THERE'S SOMETHING ABOUT MARY) that tend to get bigger laughs in the UK just due to the presence of Lee Evans, who is a bit of a comedy legend here (well, for those who like mugging and pratfalls anyway) - which can skew the experience a bit so in fact I can;t remember the end of this movie at all - so I shall dutifully watch some Tom & Jerry cartoons as a warm up and then watch the movie again - thanks Yvette!

  2. I have not seen this, even though I love Nathan Lane, too. Watching him on talk shows is lots of fun. He is always sharp and witty.

    This would bug me, as the easiest way to deal with a "mouse problem," is to get a cat or two cats or three cats.

    Corinna Chapman in the Melbourne series by Kerry Greenwood, has two cats to protect her bakery. They are "the mouse patrol."

  3. Great choice, Yvette. I could watch this film any number of times, for Nathan Lane's comedy act, as I would his BIRD CAGE alongside Robin Williams and Gene Hackman.

  4. Sergio, I think Lee Evans doesn't translate well. Ha. I thought his mugging was just too over the top. I guess 'subtlety' is not his cuppa tea.

    Tim Burton-esque, that's it. That string factory.....oh my goodness. It was like a cartoon 'string factory' come to life.

    The 'look' of this movie is just terrific. And the fact they don't identify the town or place makes it even better.

    Such a fun movie.:)

  5. Oh Kathy, they do get a cat. They go to the pound and get the most vicious mouse killer they can find. But, things do not go according to plan...HA!

    You would love this, Kathy. I'm sure.

  6. Prashant: There's just something about Nathan Lane that is so appealing. It's that look in his eyes. Ha.


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