Mouse Hunt (1997)

Rating: C+

Dir: Gore Verbinski
Star: Nathan Lane, Lee Evans, Vicki Lewis, Christopher Walken

At its best, this captures the demented, hyperviolent joy of Tom and Jerry, as two brothers (Lane + Evans) struggle, with ever-decreasing success, to rid an unwanted rodent from their house before its auction. And while the film sticks to this, it works beautifully, as a spiralling descent into the madness of obsession and the irrational behaviour it creates. It begins with mousetraps, runs through a cat – “preferably with a history of mental illness,” as they tell the man at the animal shelter – and an exterminator who eats droppings (Walken, natch), before reaching a climax whose predictability is rivalled only by its appropriateness.

However, the film-makers seem unwilling to go with just this; instead, they tack on any number of superfluous subplots. Give the brothers a tense relationship to each other! One has marital problems! The other feels alienated from their late father! Make them owners of a string factory! Someone wants to take over the business! It doesn’t work, in part because they are horribly executed, and generate little or no emotion at all. Nor is it necessary – it’s like giving Wile E. Coyote a back-story. Obviously, more depth is required in a feature than a 7-minute cartoon, and it’d require very careful scripting to avoid numb desensitization setting in: even I struggle to sit through much more than an hour of T&J. But there are nuggets of gold (such as the first, swooping, mouse POV shot, which careers through the whole house), and the technical aspects are spot-on. Startling – but perhaps not too surprising – to realise that after his debut, Verbinski would move on to both The Ring and Pirates of the Caribbean.