Monster House 

(PG) 2.5 stars

In my review of Strangers With Candy, I state that, if you attend the movie with a few friends, it is guaranteed that at least one of them will leave the theater shaking their head and grumbling,

“I just don’t get it.” With Monster House, I’m the one.

Monster House is a kids’ movie that employs the motion-capture animation technique that was used to make The Polar Express. I didn’t like the technique then and I’m still not crazy about it. When characters display strong emotions, the facial expressions are generally correct, but when the mood is more subtle, there is almost no variation of expression at all. Almost as off-putting, the characters look like marionettes when they move their arms and legs.

The film is a twist on the haunted house genre, the twist being that the house itself is the monster. The problem is that the story takes forever to get rolling, and then feels rushed once it does. Some of the set pieces work and I appreciated the dramatic framing — particularly the sweeping views from above and the side of the action, but still, the production feels curiously flat despite all the thrill ride action.

There’s little else to say, really. I didn’t think much of the movie, though I suspect kids will be more forgiving. No need to go into the details of the plot, except to put the celebrity voices in context. You likely have never heard of Michael Musso, Sam Lerner and Spencer Locke, the young actors playing the three lead characters. But the rest of the cast is more well-known.

Catherine O’Hara and Fred Willard play the parents, and that’s Maggie Gyllenhaal doing the honors as the babysitter, with Jason Lee providing the voice for her boyfriend. The grouchy old coot across the street is Steve Buscemi, and the voice of his wife is Kathleen Turner. Nick Cannon and Kevin James play the inept cops. Oh, and the guy glued to the arcade game is Jon Heder, Mr. Napoleon Dynamite.

If you end up going to Monster House, take this review along with you. That way, if you get bored, you can entertain yourself by trying to name the actors and then use the review to check your answers. And if you love the movie, just wad up the review and toss it in the trash receptacle.

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