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MouseHunt is a 1997 American dark comedy slapstick film directed by Gore Verbinski, written by Adam Rifkin and starring Nathan Lane and Lee Evans, and featured William Hickey,[1] who died shortly after the film was shot. It was the first family film to be released by DreamWorks Pictures.

Mouse Hunt
Mouse hunt ver4.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed by Gore Verbinski
Produced by
  • Bruce Cohen
  • Tony Ludwig
  • Alan Riche
Written by Adam Rifkin
Music by Alan Silvestri
Cinematography Phedon Papamichael
Edited by Craig Wood
Distributed by DreamWorks Pictures
Release date
  • December 19, 1997 (1997-12-19)
Running time
98 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Budget $38 million
Box office $122.4 million

In the story, two Laurel and Hardy like brothers struggle against one small house mouse for possession of a house that was willed to them by their father. The intelligent and crafty mouse outwits them completely. The film is set in a humorously indeterminate 20th century time period, with styles ranging from the 1940s to the 1990s.



When once wealthy string magnate Rudolf Smuntz (William Hickey) dies, he leaves his outdated string factory and a run-down mansion to his two sons, Lars (Lee Evans) and Ernie (Nathan Lane). When Lars refuses a proposal by representatives from the large Zeppco conglomerate to purchase their string factory, his self-centered, money-hungry wife April (Vicki Lewis) throws him out. Meanwhile, Ernie serves Mayor McKrinkle (Cliff Emmich) at his restaurant in anticipation of becoming a famous chef for serving such a high-profile guest. However, the mayor is poisoned by a cockroach (which came from Rudolf's old box of Cuban cigars that Ernie took for himself) and suffers two heart attacks, with the latter fatal. As a result, Ernie's restaurant is closed down by the Board of Health. The despondent brothers encounter each other and find solace in their father's mansion.

Finding the mansion's blueprints, Ernie and Lars discover that it is a lost masterpiece designed by famous architect Charles Lyle LaRue. LaRue collector Alexander Falko (Maury Chaykin) makes a proposal, but Ernie refuses under the belief they can make a larger profit by restoration and auction. However, the brothers have already realized that the house has one stubborn occupant: a tiny and crafty mouse. Lars is initially dismissive of the mouse but Ernie, remembering the cockroach incident, is determined to rid the house of any vermin that could potentially ruin their plans.

When a single mousetrap proves to be useless against the mouse, Ernie and Lars try all sorts of tactics to kill the rodent, each of which fail spectacularly and damage the house even more. To make matters worse, the brothers are served with a repossession notice by the bank, who warn them that they will lose the house unless they make an overdue mortgage payment of $1200 within two days. They initially attempt to raise the money by withholding the pay of the workers at the factory but this suggestion triggers an angry response from the workers who then go on strike. In desperation, Lars tries to run the factory on his own but ends up losing his clothes after accidentally feeding a loose thread from his jacket into the machinery while damaging the machine's fuse box. He is then unexpectedly reunited with April, who has learned of the auction and the brothers' plans to get rich.

The brothers purchase a monstrous cat named "Catzilla" to deal with the mouse. Catzilla chases the mouse throughout the house while destroying everything, but gets tricked onto the house's dumbwaiter as the mouse sends him down to his demise. They then hire an eccentric exterminator, Caesar (Christopher Walken), to handle the mouse, though he is severely injured and hospitalized after the mouse attaches him to the winch of his own truck which then violently drags him out of the house and destroys the plumbing. Meanwhile, Ernie goes behind Lars' back and tries to revive the deal to sell the factory to Zeppco but his meeting with them is thwarted when he is hit by a bus while trying to impress two Belgian hair models. As Ernie is taken into hospital, Lars arrives (while wearing April's coat and hat) and informs him that April has given them the $1200 to pay off the mortgage.

After getting back to the house and witnessing the damage caused by Catzilla and Caesar, Ernie chases the mouse up a chimney and gets stuck, and Lars attempts to light a match while the mouse starts a gas leak, creating an explosion that blasts Ernie out of the chimney and into the lake where he and Lars lost a tub that they were trying to bring in. Driven to the brink of insanity, Ernie takes a shotgun to shoot the mouse, accidentally shooting a compressed can of pesticide that Caesar left behind, blowing a huge hole in the floor. The brothers then get into an argument after an answerphone message from Zeppco reveals Lars turning down their offer without telling Ernie and Ernie attempting to sell the factory in secret, which results in Zeppco's proposal being withdrawn, which culminates with Lars throwing an orange at Ernie which accidentally knocks the mouse unconscious. Unable to finish him off, they instead seal the mouse in a box and mail him to Fidel Castro in Cuba. Elated, the brothers quickly reconcile and finish renovating the house.

When the night of the auction arrives, Lars discovers the mouse's box in the snow returned due to insufficient postage and with a big hole gnawed through it. Lars and Ernie panic upon seeing the mouse return, but attempt to maintain their composure as the auction continues. The mouse also devours Rudolf's "lucky string," which he gave to the brothers before his death, making their vendetta even more personal. The brothers desperately attempt to flush out the mouse by feeding a hose into the wall. As the auction reaches a record $25 million bid, the house rapidly floods through the walls and the floors, causing everyone to be washed out of the house as it promptly collapses. The bidders leave, and April leaves Lars for good for a particularly rich bidder. The brothers' only consolation is the fact that the mouse must finally be dead as their father's "lucky string" is found in the wreckage.

With nowhere else to go, the brothers return to the factory and fall asleep, with only a single chunk of cheese for food. Having survived his apparent death and followed them, the mouse restarts and feeds the cheese into the machinery inventing the world's first string cheese, which inspires Ernie and Lars. Ernie and Lars end their war with the mouse and have successfully rebuilt the factory as a novelty string cheese company. Lars has begun a relationship with one of the Belgian hair models, Hilde, and Ernie puts his culinary skill to work in developing new cheese flavors with the mouse as his personal taste tester.

The film ends with the "lucky string" being shown placed in a wall next to Rudolf's portrait with a inscription of his motto: "A world without string is Chaos.".



MouseHunt received mixed reviews from film critics. Rotten Tomatoes reports that 42% of 31 critics had given the film a positive review. Audiences polled by CinemaScore gave the film an average grade of "B" on an A+ to F scale. Roger Ebert gave the film two stars, calling it "not very funny, and maybe couldn't have been very funny no matter what, because the pieces for comedy are not in place... A comedy that hasn't assigned sympathy to some characters and made others hateful cannot expect to get many laughs, because the audience doesn't know who to laugh at, or with."

Regarding the digital special effects, Ebert deemed the film "an excellent example of the way modern advances in special effects can sabotage a picture (Titanic is an example of effects being used wisely). Because it is possible to make a movie in which the mouse can do all sorts of clever things, the filmmakers have assumed incorrectly that it would be funny to see the mouse doing them."[2]

Nonetheless, the film was a financial success. It was released on December 19, 1997, and opened up in North America at #4 and grossed $6,062,922 in its opening weekend, averaging about $2,817 from 2,152 theaters. In its second weekend, it stayed at #4 and increased by 60 percent, making $9,702,770, averaging about $4,428 from 2,191 theaters, and bringing its ten day gross to $21,505,569.[3] It closed on July 1, 1998, with a final gross of $61,917,389 in the North American market and $60,500,000 in other territories for a worldwide total of $122,417,389. Its budget was $38 million. The film was released in the United Kingdom on April 3, 1998, and opened on #2, behind Titanic.[4]

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