The 90s on Netflix: Mouse Hunt (1997)
Mark Harrison | On 18, Sep 2020
Director: Gore Verbinski
Cast: Nathan Lane, Lee Evans, William Hickey, Christopher Walken
Watch MouseHunt online in the UK: Netflix UK / Apple TV (iTunes) / Prime Video (Buy/Rent) / TalkTalk TV / Rakuten TV / Google Play / Sky Store / CHILI
Do you remember the 1990s? Mark does. On Fridays, he flashes back to the golden decade of our childhood. From family-friendly films to blockbusters we shouldn’t have been watching, get ready for a monthly dose of nostalgia, as we put down our VHS tapes and find out whether the 90s on Netflix are still Live & Kicking.
“A world without string is chaos.” With recent news that a man in France destroyed part of his house while trying to swat a fly with an electric racket, we’re strongly reminded of Gore Verbinski’s riotous debut feature, MouseHunt. Released in 1998, the DreamWorks family comedy sees two brothers pull off a similar act of comic self-sabotage on a priceless house they inherit.
The Smuntz brothers – cynical chef Ernie (Nathan Lane) and well-meaning wooby Lars (Lee Evans) – come into the family business when their father, string magnate Rudolf (William Hickey), passes away. But they also inherit a rundown mansion on the outskirts of town. Discovering the house is an undiscovered work by a famous architect and duly restoring it, the hapless brothers aim to auction the house and claim a fortune, but struggle to evict a mouse with a knack for knackering their plans.
Released as counter-programming to James Cameron’s Titanic in 1997, MouseHunt was moderately successful at the box office and mostly dismissed by critics, who found its grand slapstick fiasco more wearying than wonderful. As well as being Verbinski’s first film, it was the first family film to emerge from DreamWorks Pictures, a new bid at a major studio launched by co-founders Steven Spielberg, Jeffrey Katzenberg, and David Geffen.
As the experiment of a first-time director working at a brand-new studio, you can see how a family film this deranged and hysterical (look at that PG certificate) came out of the Hollywood system. With influences ranging from Tom & Jerry to Laurel & Hardy, this is a tremendous complement of live-action comedy and violence, mostly inflicted by a mouse on two fully grown men.
As a double-act, Lane and Evans would later team up on stage as Bialystock and Bloom in the stage version of The Producers, but this first collaboration shows the rich comic chemistry of the pair, whether pratfalling or remonstrating with one another about their latest doomed attempt to kill a tiny rodent. The Smuntzes are never as likeable as Stan and Ollie, but you can’t deny the influence of their films, especially in the one shot where Lane sits on his arse, rumpled and battered, and gives a perfect Oliver Hardy look down the barrel of the camera.
Verbinski conducts the chaos nicely, aided by Phedon Papamichael’s cinematography, Craig Wood’s editing, and Alan Silvestri’s frenetic score. But his coup de grace is in casting Christopher Walken as Caesar the exterminator. The result is one of the great Walken cameos in a career marked by all-time great cameos – “Most people are not… psychologically equipped to catch mice.” – but MouseHunt sees him at his exceptionally quotable best in only a brief role.
It’s just one of many scenes that typifies the film’s blend of slapstick and gallows humour, racking up the jeopardy by putting every character (except the mouse) in genuine danger and getting big bad laughs out of it anyway. When the film says chaos, it means chaos, and the sense of danger only amps up the hilarity.
Funny, frenetic, and wilfully offbeat, MouseHunt shows us the kind of Gore Verbinski we haven’t seen in too long. Over the course of his Pirates of the Caribbean films and Lone Ranger remake, his brand of anarchy became more expensive and therefore more controlled, whereas his mid-budget comedy about two men trying to kill a mouse looks like one of the most transgressively dark and funny family movies of the decade.
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MouseHunt is available on Netflix UK, as part of an £8.99 monthly subscription.