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Spooky House

Reviewed By David Cornelius
Posted 02/15/07 22:12:04

"Tricks and treats."
3 stars (Just Average)

“Spooky House” has the look and feel of a made-for-Disney Channel movie, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. The film has the light, friendly charm of a sweet kiddie movie that has low ambitions and succeeds as a delightful, small-scale story.

Ben Kingsley stars as The Great Zamboni, a magician who retired over a decade ago when his wife disappeared during one of his shows. He now lives hidden away in a big mansion in a small town, and he still wears his trademark turban and fancy mustache, and he still keeps a jaguar as a pet. These actions have caused the kids of the neighborhood to refer to him as “Spooky Guy;” his mansion, therefore, is “Spooky House,” the kind of home that kids dare other kids to go to the front door and ring the bell, if you dare. The kids’ tales have grown over the years, to the point that as the movie begins, the kids are convinced that Zamboni is a 2,000-year-old vampire who feeds children to his lion. Oh, and there are ghosts in the Spooky House, and those ghosts are “spookier than the Spooky Guy!”

A handful of kids are forced to make their way into Spooky House to find a runaway pet goat (don’t ask), and while Zamboni manages to frighten most of them away (he just wants to be alone, after all), button-cute Max (Matt Weinberg) isn’t afraid. Instead, he’s fascinated by Zamboni’s collection of magic tricks.

Despite some initial reluctance on Zamboni’s part, the two become good friends, with Zamboni teaching Max a few magic tricks and generally becoming a father figure. Max needs one, you see, as he’s about to be shipped off to the local orphanage. The plot device sounds like a cheap set-up to mawkishness, but somehow, it doesn’t ruin the film that much; the friendship between the two has a sweetness to it that makes the film very easy to like despite its predictable flaws. (Plus, Kingsley puts his all into the role despite the movie’s low ambitions, and the result is a surprisingly complex character that’s far more interesting than you often find in kiddie fare.)

The plot’s filled out with some nonsense about a local crime boss (Mercedes Ruhl) and her trio of incompetent teenage punks who keep picking on Max and his friends. This stuff’ll amuse the kids and give parents a few minutes for a bathroom break.

No, “Spooky House” isn’t the brightest movie in the box, and yes, it’s filled with cornball sentiment and predictable plot turns. But that’s OK. “Spooky House” is incredibly likable, a consistently delightful Halloween treat that’ll make kids smile and maybe even get a few grins out of the grown-ups as well. It’s sweet, magical fluff.

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