Once you've seen the pre-credits sequence, which tips open a coffin and catapults the very dead contents into an open sewer, you're left in no doubt that Mouse Hunt is an exercise in organised chaos. It's a textbook Home Alone-style caper, the difference being that there is no `cute kid' to put up with. Instead, the domestic terrorism is left to an equally smart, but infinitely less nauseous, mouse who wreaks havoc and physical injury upon the unsuspecting human buffoons.
Said buffoons are played by The Birdcage's Nathan Lane and British clown Lee Evans. They are the hapless sons of `String King' Rudolf Smuntz, who leaves his progeny a Victorian-style string factory and the rodent-infested mansion. Lane, as the smooth-talking elder brother, apes Oliver Hardy pretty effectively, while Evans resists the urge to turn Lars Smuntz into a cut-price Norman Wisdom. The gurning physical comedian is relatively restrained for his big-budget debut; whether this is a blessing or a disappointment depends on your view of his trademark mugging.
Christopher Walken joins the idiot brothers, sending himself up deliciously as a psychotic, shit-eating pest controller named Caesar. His come-uppance is the first of many brilliantly orchestrated set-pieces sprinkled throughout Mouse Hunt. Just as impressive is the film's production design: it's as though the luckless Smuntz brothers have been dumped squarely in the RKO backlot during the golden age of silent comedy.
But ultimately the real star of Mouse Hunt is the critter. In their own miniature fashion, the rodent-related effects are as impressive as Cameron's vertical Titanic. Using a combination of animatronics, CGI and a troop of trained `stunt' mice, the film-makers have created a wholly believable furry hero, who never once trades his essential miceness for niceness. By the end, you'll believe a mouse can drive a pick-up truck.
Directed by Gore Verbinski (he's the man who got animated frogs to say "Bud-weis-er"), Mouse Hunt isn't remotely cheesy. It may be virtually plotless, but that doesn't matter - - no-one ever accused Laurel and Hardy of sacrificing story for slapstick. Go and see it now before they ruin everything with the sequel, Mousehunt 2: Rats In New York.
Mouse Hunt is that rare thing: a family film that doesn't make you want to throw up. Smart, sharp and funny, and with fantastic visual effects, it's everything the Home Alone sequels should have been. Possibly the best film about mice ever made.