Film / MouseHunt

Ernie Smuntz: We can't handle any more intrusions.
Caesar: Sure. That's how you perceive it. But to that mouse, you are the intruder.

Imagine if you were to create a comedic movie that's a cross between Tom and Jerry and Home Alone, have it star what looks like Mario and Luigi (or Laurel and Hardy) as the protagonists, set it in a Retro Universe of the 30's/40's and today, and for good measure, give Christopher Walken an extended cameo. The result would be this film.

Nathan Lane and Lee Evans are Ernie and Lars Smuntz, brothers with a recently deceased ruined father. In his will, he leaves them "the future of string" — a Steam Punk string factory with No OSHA Compliance — and a seemingly worthless Victorian mansion. Oh, and some spoons, a half box of cigars, and a ceramic egg. But then the duo discovers that the abandoned house could be worth millions if it were renovated. Unfortunately for them, the place is already inhabited by a single rodent and he ain't leaving. Hilarity Ensues as the clever mouse thwarts the brothers' increasingly elaborate Zany Schemes to kill him, all while they have to deal with improbable house payments and the string factory's revolting employees.

This was the 1997 directorial debut of Gore Verbinski, who later gave us the Pirates of the Caribbean films and Rango. This was also one of the first movies released by a fledgling little company called DreamWorks and the one which established their rivalry with Disney. One wonders if they made the film center around a mouse just to be ironic.

Given its odd combination of Slapstick and Black Comedy in a Retro Universe setting, the movie will probably become a Cult Classic one of these days. Don't confuse it with the Facebook app.

This movie contains the following tropes:

  • The Ace: The mouse
  • An Aesop: Teamwork and sharing are good things. These are the last things Mr. Smuntz tells his sons.
  • All Cloth Unravels: Lars ends up naked when he tries to run the family string factory (and breaks the fuse box). For the practical effect to work, the clothing unraveling had to be knit, and knit upside down. See here for pictures.
  • The Alleged House: The mansion the brothers inherit is a rotting, seemingly worthless wreck that they only move into because they have no other option. It turns out to actually be incredibly valuable, but nonetheless is falling apart.
  • Amplified Animal Aptitude: The mouse — it's the whole premise of the movie. Lars initially lampshades this, which Ernie promptly mocks, though he later agrees.
    "I don't think we're dealing with an ordinary mouse."
  • Amusing Injuries: The whole movie is built on "What if Tom and Jerry was live-action? And everything actually hurt?"
  • Angrish: The brothers have a short conversation in angrish after the first time the mouse blows them up. Followed by a mix of both Sanity Slippage and Unstoppable Rage, a complete lack of gun safety, and the mouse blowing them up again.
  • Anti-Climax Boss: In-universe. After repeated and increasingly extreme attempts to get rid of the mouse fail, the brothers turn on each other leading Lars to throw an orange at Ernie, missing and knocking the mouse behind him unconscious.
  • Apocalyptic Log: Caesar The Exterminator's log is found after the ambulance carts him away - we don't see what happened but it sure sounds terrible.
    (A door creaks open.)
    Caesar: "Hey! Hey, put that down! What is that thing?"
    (Smashing sounds.)
    Caesar: "AAAGH!"
    (Sound of elastic stretching then snapping back.)
    Caesar: "That tickles..."
    (Various slams, thumps and screams then silence...)
  • Arc Words / Book Ends: "A world without string is chaos."
  • Ash Face: Ernie and Lars after the former accidentally shot Caesar's bug bomb and caused a massive explosion.
  • Auction: The eventual fate of the mansion, which was ultimately averted by its destruction just before it was sold.
  • Ax-Crazy:
    • Catzilla is portrayed as being such a good mouse hunter because he's psychotic.
    • The brothers ultimately become this after too many plans turn on them, destroying a fair chunk of the house they were trying to save.
  • Badass Adorable: Catzilla and the mouse, but especially the mouse.
  • Beautiful Condemned Building: Subverted. The old mansion the brothers inherit from their father is a ruined, rotten wreck, and while Ernie is the most dismissive and contemptuous of it, neither of the brothers is particularly interested in renovating it or sees any value in it...until they discover it is actually a long-lost creation of famous architect Charles Lyle LaRue, at which point they are then eager to restore it. I.e., no character sees the inherent value of the building until they learn of its hidden financial value, rather than seeing it before the fact and against another's scoffing.
  • Berserk Button: When Lars mocks Ernie for being unable to cook, Ernie understandably gets upset since he used to be a well-known chef.
  • Big "NO!": The crying little girl screams this several times while she is dragged away from her kitty cat by her mother out of the City Pound, passing by Ernie and Lars.
  • Blown Across the Room: When Lars lights a match after the mouse caused a gas leak he's blown by the explosion right into a china cabinet.
  • Butt-Monkey: Ernie, Lars and Caesar. Catzilla probably counts too.
  • Cats Are Mean: Catzilla is the pet of your nightmares. He's apparently unkillable (they tried gassing him at least once in the animal shelter), permanently kept in a sealed container because he's so vicious and is portrayed as a Godzilla-like monster from the mouse's perspective. In fact, when Ernie puts the box down Catzilla's paws punch through the wood with ease and walk around with Catzilla still inside, just so he can hide outside the mousehole. When the mouse investigates, he breaks out of his container, and roars like Godzilla. Making it all the more impressive when the mouse proceeds to Break the Badass.
  • Catzilla Threshold: After failing numerous times to catch or kill the mouse, Ernie has a breakdown and opts to just shoot the mouse with a double barreled shotgun, with no regard for the structural damage he's inflicting on the house. And then later tries to flush out the mouse by flooding the house with water, which doesn't really work out.
  • Chekhov's Gun: The flea bomb.
  • The Chew Toy: The brothers, Caesar, and Catzilla.
  • Christmas Carolers: While Ernie and Lars wander the streets at night, both of them with nowhere to go, cynical Ernie belittles Lars for not looking at the big picture, though Lars says it's Christmas, and instead of dwelling on what they don't have, they should be thankful for what they do have... all the while carolers are singing, "I'll Be Home for Christmas", until the brothers give them an Aside Glance, prompting them to leave.
  • Consolation Backfire: At the climax, the Smuntz's last attempts to drive the mouse away result in the house getting flooded and several walls being destroyed. And this happens in the middle of the auction to sell the house. All the would-be buyers start to leave...
    Ernie Smuntz: Hey! Don't go! [waves an arm at the flooded house] A demonstration of how durable a LaRue really is! Now you know this house will last forever!
    [As if on cue, the house collapses.]
  • Creepy Changing Portrait: The portrait Rudolf Smuntz will change his expression in some scenes.
  • Creepy Cockroach: In the beginning of the film, Ernie's restaurant gets shut down due to an incident where the mayor dies of shock after eating a cockroach head.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Ernie.
  • Deus ex Machina: Although she had been featured earlier in the movie and her greediness well-established, April reappearing in the plot and paying off the brothers' mortgage (on the understanding that the mansion would be sold for beaucoup bucks at auction) is this, since at the point she does so the brothers have absolutely no other way to get the money, with the mouse evading all their attempts to get rid of it and the factory having just lost all its workers (and broken down from Lars' attempt to run it by himself).
  • Downer Beginning: The movie starts with the Smuntz brother's accidentally dropping their father's corpse down a sewer drain on the day of his funeral. It goes downhill from there, and that's all before they even meet the infamous mouse.
  • The Dutiful Son: Lars.
  • Eccentric Exterminator: Caesar, played by Christopher Walken of all people. He has an almost supernatural intuition to pests, and maintains an overly dramatic log report about his work. Eventually he gets Driven to Madness by the mouse he's trying to catch.
  • Establishing Character Moment: Right off the bat, we know Lars is more doting toward their father as at the funeral, he gets on Ernie for not keeping the casket level, and is genuinely worried when their father's corpse gets lost in the sewer. Ernie, on the other hand is outwardly indifferent. His only interest is wondering what shade of black Lars' jacket it, and when the body lands in the sewer, he gives out a meek "Ah, well."
  • Everyone Has Standards: The brothers did not have the heart to kill the mouse while he's unconscious (and hate themselves for it) so they had him deported. The mouse still found his way back, but throws the two a bone after their plans literally blow up.
  • Evil Laugh: A rare "good guy" example: Ernie does this every time he chases the mouse or when he thinks he has got him.
  • Fat and Skinny: Ernie and Lars. While Ernie is not exactly fat he's quite larger than the thin Lars.
  • Foreshadowing:
    • It's mentioned that the last owner of the house was found in a trunk in the attic. Caesar later ends up getting the same treatment by the mouse.
    • "A single vermin can bring you down."
  • The "Fun" in "Funeral": Lars accidentally breaks the handle on his side of his father's coffin, causing Mr. Smuntz to fall out of it and into the sewers.
  • Funny Answering Machine: Ernie: "When ya hear the beep, start talkin'."
  • Gold Digger: Lars' wife April. She leaves him after learning his late father left him nothing but a string factory in his will and that Lars didn't want to sell the place. But she returns and seduces him after learning about the house auction. In the end though, she runs off with a wealthy Texan with at least 22 million dollars kicking around (which she learns from his bidding).
  • Grey and Gray Morality: Roger Ebert's problem with the film. Essentially, the movie never really decides whose side we're supposed to be on. You can't fault the brothers, who are flat broke with sympathetic backstories, for wanting to get back on their feet. Nor can you blame the mouse for defending its home and its life. At the film's close however, it manages to subvert this by giving both sides a Happily Ever After. This trope is also true of the majority of the Tom and Jerry shorts which this movie borrows heavily from, so perhaps it was done on purpose.
  • Hand-or-Object Underwear: The outcome of the above-mentioned string factory episode. Ironically, the balls of thread Lars uses to cover his crotch appear to actually be his clothes in their unraveled form. Heh, heh, balls.
  • Heads, Tails, Edge: An attempted resolution to a There Is Only One Bed dilemma.
  • Heel–Face Turn: After the house is completely destroyed, the mouse helps set the brothers off on a new future in making cheese string.
  • Henpecked Husband: Lars.
  • Heroic B.S.O.D.: Caesar after his run in with the mouse.
    Ernie: Caesar, what happened? Did you catch the mouse?
    Cesar: What's that? Horse? Fiendish!!! I WON'T EAT IT!! -chatters like a mouse-
  • Hidden Depths:
    • There are hints throughout the film that not only is the mouse very old but also more than just a trickster. Notably, Ernie comments on his culinary expertise in properly toasting a sandwich (thinking Caesar had made it).
    • Additionally, the fact the movie seemingly takes place in the 1940s allows for some interesting parody and social commentary on the period, if one pays close attention to the subtext.
  • Human Mail: Unable to kill the mouse after catching him, the brothers ultimately mail him to Cuba. He gets sent back due to insufficient postage.
  • Humiliation Conga: Pretty much the entire movie is this for Ernie and Lars.
  • The Hunter Becomes the Hunted: Oh yes.
  • I Ate WHAT?!: The mayor, before dying of a heart attack. The answer? A cockroach. Or rather, the front half of it.
    • Caeser doesn't think twice about eating mouse droppings as his way of tracking his prey.
    • At the auction, one of the guests compliments Ernie on his crepes, saying that she especially likes the raisins. Ernie then realizes that he never put raisins on them. Ew.
  • Idiot Ball: Both Ernie and Lars. They caused more damages than the mouse.
  • Iron Butt Monkey: Lars and Ernie survive getting blown up, rocketed into a frozen lake, and getting hit by a bus, among other things.
  • It Always Rains at Funerals
  • It Can Think: A rare non-malicious example (depending on your perspective) in the mouse's case. This goes into Up to Eleven levels when Ernie accepts that they're not dealing with an ordinary mouse.
  • It's All About Me: Lars' wife April, who outright states that she is not content being "middle class" and angrily tosses Lars out of the house when he refuses an offer for his father's string factory. She only comes back to him upon learning of the auction for the valuable house he's staying at, having the audacity to cuss out Ernie when the house nearly sells for eight million just before the bid goes up; she ultimately makes off with one of the millionaires, not giving a second thought of Lars.
  • Jerkass Has a Point: Ernie does not think highly of his father Rudolf or the family string business at all, and has no problem making this clear. It's understandable though considering that Rudolf supposedly didn't give a damn about Ernie's cooking and expected him to run the business with Lars after he passed away, even though Ernie had his own business to run. That, and the Smuntzes' string factory is outdated and barely makes any money until the end of the film.
  • Karmic Trickster: When left to his own devices, the mouse doesn't really bother the brothers beyond stealing their food, and most of the mishaps in the film are the brothers' own faults. As they start trying harder, though, the mouse starts getting mean in retaliation. At one point it turns on the gas and hands one of the unwitting brothers a match.
  • Killer Rabbit: The mouse. The last owner of the house before Rudolf Smuntz was found dead locked in a trunk in the attic. Later, the ambulance picks up Caesar the exterminator halfway through the film. He was found the same way, except it's implied this time the mouse called 911. Not to mention the rest of the stuff he does to Caesar and the Smuntz brothers.
  • Large Ham: Caesar the exterminator (being played by Christopher Walken, this shouldn't be a surprise). The brothers also ham up every time they get excited chasing the mouse.
  • Laser-Guided Karma: Ernie, smarting from years of having his culinary pursuits dismissed by his father and learning the old man's will has left him with only a ruined mansion and an only slightly-more-valuable string factory, storms out, taking only his father's old cigar box. It's from this box that the cockroach comes, ruining his restaurant and setting off the whole plot.
  • Made of Iron:
    • The Smuntz brothers live through a heck load of torment from the mouse.
    • Catzilla qualifies as well. Maury offhandedly mentions how Catzilla had already been gassed at one point.
  • Misplaced Accent: The Belgian sisters, Ingrid and Hilde, who sound nothing like Dutch or Belgian.
  • Missing Trailer Scene: Lampshaded in the film's offbeat trailer:
    "These are the cha-cha twins.note  They are not in Mouse Hunt. Tell your friends."
    • Also, most of the footage from the first teaser with the mouse doing shadow puppets.
  • Mouse Hole: The mouse retreats into one at every opportunity, usually to inflict some misfortune on whoever or whatever dares to follow him in.
  • Mouse Trap: This is the first attempt to get rid of the mouse. They find the trap sprung and the olive pit left behind. Undaunted, Ernie goes for his good cheese to bait the next one. The mouse steals the entire wheel while the two are busy waiting for him to spring the trap. Finally, they go for broke and set up hundreds of them. Cue Epic Fail as the mouse shows them just how intelligent he is.
  • Ms. Fanservice: April in her lingerie with her bare shoulders showing and her hair loose with a little hat on.
  • The Nameless: The mouse doesn't seem to have a name.
  • Nail 'Em: Lars nearly kills the mouse by accident as he's nailing in some wooden trim along the floor. Lucky for the mouse, Ernie provides a distraction.
  • Never Recycle a Building: Justified as the mouse drove out everyone who tried to live in the house.
  • Nice Mice: But not until the very end of the movie.
  • No Indoor Voice: Ernie's prone to yelling, even when he's excited. Nathan Lane's voice actor in Brazil said the movie was his hardest work ever because Ernie yells so much he barely had a voice after each day recording the dubbing.
  • Non-Fatal Explosions: Ernie and Lars are both blown up by the mouse twice (the first time, Ernie is blasted from a chimney and into a nearby lake) but luckily, they only have some soot on their faces and shredded clothes to worry about.
  • Non Sequitur, *Thud*: This happens to Caesar after the mouse made a fool of him, sending him careening through the house and effectively driving him to madness. He is then being taken out on a hospital stretcher when the brothers return to check up on things.
    Ernie: Caesar, what happened? Did you catch the mouse?
    Caesar: What's that? Horse!? FIENDISH!!! I WON'T EAT IT!! AAAGH! (makes chattering noises like a mouse)
  • No OSHA Compliance: The Smuntz String factory catches enough loose threads to rid Lars of his clothes in minutes.
  • No, You: The brothers' big argument is filled with these. Lars snarls that he betrayed him by trying to sell the factory behind his back, while Ernie snarls back that he betrayed him by keeping those deals secret when they had equal ownership in the first place. Lars complains Ernie blew up half the house trying to shoot the mouse, which Ernie points out Lars screamed at him to do. Ernie hates Lars, well Lars hates Ernie.
  • Odd Couple: Ernie is tight-fisted and practical while Lars is dumber and more idealistic.
  • Oh, Crap!: Caesar, as he realizes he's about to go on a painful journey through the house.
    Caeser: Aw, nuts!
    • Also, the brothers, when the mouse is about to spring all the mousetraps.
  • Overly Long Gag: The entire scene with the mouse crawling across the kitchen to use a cherry to spring the mousetraps.
  • Posthumous Character: Rudolf Smuntz is already dead by the time the movie begins. There's a flashback from when he was alive.
  • Pounds Are Animal Prisons: Completely subverted. A little girl is seen being dragged screaming from the pound, where her kitten is then immediately gassed to death (*possibly* for absolutely no reason). Note that this isn't treated as Black Comedy or anything. It comes across more like a "just business as usual" angle.
  • "The Reason You Suck" Speech: The brothers both throw this at each other, in a naturally poorly handled fashion, after realizing each were making different arrangements for the factory without informing the other, as well as a particularly brutal defeat by the mouse.
  • Refuge in Audacity: The entire film seems to run on this, but moments of particular note would be the very opening scene with the funeral, the over-the-top reaction to the cockroach that results in Ernie's restaurant going out of business, and of course the ending—both the false climax where the Escalating War finally takes out the mouse (it seems) and the real one with the Auction.
  • Retro Universe: The film has a 1940s look, but seems to take place in the present day. The Zeppco guy's comments about bringing the factory into the 21st Century imply that it simply takes place in an undefined, anachronistic modern-day setting like Tim Burton's Batman films.
  • Rube Goldberg Hates Your Guts: This makes up a lot of the physical comedy.
  • Sanity Slippage:
    • The brothers, but especially Ernie, as they try and get rid of the mouse — and in the process, destroy the house they are trying to save.
      Lars: (seeing Ernie with a shotgun) What're you gonna do?
      Ernie: I'm gonna kill that unspeakable thing once and for all!
      Lars: Ernie, no, no—
      Ernie: Stand back, Lars! I'm a man on a mission!
      Lars: This is how accidents happen! Come on, Ernie, just put the gun down—
      Ernie: (crazed) I'm gonna blow his furry little head off, and I'm gonna splatter his devious little mouse brain from here to kingdom come!
    • This also happens to Caesar after being beaten by the mouse, probably for the first time in his career.
  • Scarily Competent Tracker: The exterminator. It still doesn't help.
  • Screaming Woman: The mayor's wife screams this after her husband suffers a heart attack after eating a cockroach from his dinner at Ernie's fancy restaurant.
  • Self-Made Man: Rudolf Smuntz
  • Shout-Out:
  • Sniff Sniff Nom: The mouse exterminator character mentioned above does this with some droppings to judge the dietary habits of the mouse.
  • Tempting Fate: "Now you know this house will last FOREVER!" Just before it collapses right behind Ernie.
  • Third-Act Misunderstanding: When Lars finds out about Ernie's intentions for the factory. Contributes to the above "Reason You Suck" Speech.
  • Toilet Humor: As the brothers try to suck up the mouse with the vacuum, they fail to realize that the mouse has escaped and attached the sewage line to the vacuum so that they suck up sewage. As they keep sucking and sucking, the vacuum bag expands larger and larger until finally it explodes, covering the house and the brothers in sewage.
  • Understatement: "I don't think we're dealing with an ordinary mouse."
  • Unwitting Instigator of Doom: The brothers wouldn't have to move in the house if it weren't for the cockroach that ruined Ernie, and Lars' horrible wife kicking him out.
  • Visual Pun: String Cheese.
  • We Hardly Knew Ye: Mayor McKrinkle dies at the beginning of the movie from eating half of a cockroach at Ernie's restaurant.
  • "Well Done, Son!" Guy: Ernie views his relationship with his father as such, never managing to gain much approval for his cooking profession, outside the string that ties the food together of course.