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Mouse Hunt: What Price, Glory?

I’ll admit it, I went to this movie thinking it was going to be dumb. I wasn’t disappointed. But it’s such fun dumbness that I’ve got to give it a positive review.

The real star of the movie, of course, is the mouse itself. For Mouse Hunt Spielberg’s Dream Works company used real mice, animatronic puppets and computer—generated rodents, and watching the critter outwit and damage human stars Nathan (Birdcage) Lane and Lee Evans is a howl. The first time we see the mouse bedding down in his bed under a postcard from Hawaii puts the audience firmly in his corner, and you don’t want to see him get hurt. Come on, mice are cute.

He doesn’t get a scratch. Adversaries Lane and Evans, the Smuntz Brothers, are down on their luck and are only capable of hurting themselves and each other. Evans is running the family string—making business, while Lane ambitiously (and unintentionally) makes the big time by giving the corpulent mayor a heart attack at his restaurant in a gross scene involving half a cockroach. Yuck. Near broke, exhausted and at each others’ throat, the brothers receive what seems to be manna from heaven: the death of their father. In his will, the old guy leaves the brothers a decrepit—appearing old house which turns out to be worth buchu dollars. All they have to do, they reason, is fix up the house and auction it off for a handsome sum.

Unfortunately, they are so determined to eradicate the mouse (which was there first, it must be pointed out) that they’ll go to any lengths to do it. People who help them are similarly deranged:  Christopher Walken is Caesar, a borderline psychotic exterminator who samples the droppings of his quarry to understand its diet. "Low in iron," he rasps in one of the many gross—funny moments.

Mouse Hunt has a delightfully warped (and somewhat black) sense of humor which appeals to all age groups. In the opening sequence, Lane and Evans are pallbearers at their fathers’ funeral taking the coffin down the steps in the rain. Lane is berating his brother for wearing a navy blue suit to the funeral ("It’s the bluest black I’ve ever seen!") and Evans is trying to defend himself. They’re not paying so much attention to holding up their ends and the coffins falls to the steps. It slides down and hits a cab, catapulting the corpse of their father into the air end over end (like O.J. Simpson at the end of The Naked Gun) and the old gentleman’s body, still dressed in his Sunday best, shoots down an open manhole cover and into the sewers. Now the brothers begin to argue about who will go down after it (Lane: "He’s probably halfway to the river by now, you know.") and you feel yourself trying to laugh and wince at the same time.

It’s black comedy to be sure, but it’s still comedy, and Mouse Hunt breaks the rules by not having a straight man. Going instead for the Laurel and Hardy approach, Lane is the overbearing and hysterical pudgy older brother, while Evans opts for the even more hysterical and somewhat dumber younger sibling. The pair can take a fake fall as well as any other comedy actors, and some of the bits by screenwriter Adam Rifkin are truly inspired. For example, at one point the brothers decide that a cat is needed to get rid of the mouse so they go to get one from the pound. "Preferably one with a history of mental disorders," Lane requests eagerly, and enter Catzilla, a fur and fangs nightmare that makes it its sole point in life to destroy the mouse. The mouse prevails. It always does (too bad: I wanted more Catzilla).

If you’re taking a little kid out to the movies and don’t feel like sitting through nauseous Disney spin doctoring, Mouse Hunt is a definite blue chip draft pick. Funny for the kids, deliciously warped for adults and if nothing else, you’ll see where string cheese came from.

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