Say cheese and smile for 'Mouse' dTC

December 19, 1997|By Ann Hornaday | Ann Hornaday,SUN FILM CRITIC

Not since Jackie Gleason has a right eyebrow conveyed so much comic expression. Nathan Lane, who stars in the slapstick comedy "Mouse Hunt," may be the screen's most subtle and gifted physical comedian, and his talents are shown off to perfection in this rollicking family comedy, which zips along gleefully with a sly sense of subversive fun.

As Lane's better-angel of a brother, the British comedian Lee Evans holds his own with cheerful attractiveness (he resembles a young Tony Roberts). And both are upstaged by an ingenious mouse, the most appealing four-footed creature to charm filmgoers since a certain talking pig. Maybe it's time for "Old MacDonald: The Movie" after all.

Lane and Evans play Ernie and Lars Smuntz, who inherit a failing string factory and a rickety house at the death of their father

(William Hickey, whose final performance crackles with the actor's distinctively deranged delivery). When the house turns out to be more than just a rat-trap, the brothers embark on a refurbishing job that will earn them millions; the only monkey wrench is the house mouse, who doesn't want to leave.

As the men resort to ever more desperate measures to get rid of their tiny tenant -- even bringing in an exterminator with odd culinary tastes, played with a maniacal edge by Christopher Walken -- the mouse becomes ever cheekier. The mayhem that ensues produces some of the finest go-for-broke slapstick of the holiday season.

Youngsters and their more elderly companions will scream with delight as the plucky hero rides a wheel of Gouda, evades dastardly nail-drivers and continually hoists the Smuntz brothers their own petard. (The little rodent negotiates a room full of mousetraps with the elan of Astaire.)

Fortunately, "Mouse Hunt" includes enough sophisticated humor -- often delivered via Lane's hilarious long takes -- to keep grown-ups sufficiently entertained. (Parents, be warned: There are two vulgarities that might give you pause, but they are so brief as to be virtually unnoticeable.)

A colorful, inventive production design invokes the timelessness a classic Warner Bros. cartoon; the string factory might have been conceived by Charles Dickens and Rube Goldberg over drinks. Alan Silvestri's musical score bears the whole cockamamie cavalcade along its course with whimsical brio.

'Mouse Hunt'

Starring Nathan Lane, Lee Evans, Vicki Lewis, Maury Chaykin

Directed by Gore Verbinski

Rated PG (language, comic sensuality and mayhem)

Released by DreamWorks Pictures

Sun score: ***

Pub Date: 12/19/97

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