Directed by Rob Letterman
Starring Jack Black, Dylan Minnette, Odeya Rush, Ryan Lee and Amy Ryan
Film review by Chris Olson
In a quasi-biopic surreal fantasy children's film, Rob Letterman's silver screen take of the beloved book franchise, Goosebumps, is a riotous and chaotic adventure film that is made up of so many moving parts that audiences could be forgiven for missing the broken ones.
Set in Madison, Delaware, Zach (Dylan Minnette) and his mother Gale (Amy Ryan) have just moved to town from New York, hoping to escape the tragedy of living with the death of Zach's father. Upon arrival, all seems quaint and boring in the small town, with only a suspiciously surly neighbour and his curious daughter proving to be any kind of intrigue. The neighbour is none other than R. L. Stine (Jack Black) though, who hopes to remain anonymous and unbothered with his daughter Hannah (Odeya Rush).
One night, after hearing disturbing noises next door and calling the feckless police who offer no assistance, Zach's intrigue gets the better of him and he calls his new school mate Champ (Ryan Lee) to come help investigate. What they find is a spooky house laden with booby traps which protect Stine's back catalogue of Goosebumps manuscripts. Unlocking one of these books releases one of the author's abominable creations and sets in motion a night of terror on this small town. One that only the Zach, Champ, Hannah and Stine can stop.
Given Letterman's hope that his Goosebumps movie would have a lot in common with a classic like The Goonies (1985), and that it is based on one of the most popular sets of books ever made, it seems odd that more attention was not given to the script. Starting relatively strong the scenes quickly descend into hackneyed silliness as the plot is thrust forward at a million miles an hour to a predictable and rushed ending. Black as Stine is fantastic to begin with, creating a curmudgeon with a penchant for rudeness that is brilliant. However they soon develop his character into a hapless loser who just needed more friends growing up.
Minette as the lead is fine if a little bland, and Rush swoops along admirably, but Lee as the comic relief is repetitive and irksome, churning out clichéd boy themes and childish theatrics. The need for balancing the scares with jokes, perhaps to attract a wider audiences, proving too much for a film with so much else going on. Amy Ryan is also sadly underused.
That being said, the monster mayhem is fantastic fun, offering up an array of spectacular spectacle that is utterly creative and charming. The delights of Stine's creations are brought to life with so much energy and battering violence that sequences with them in are far better than any with human actors. From the army of lawn gnomes to the super spooky ventriloquist doll (voiced by Jack Black), the real nuggets of enjoyment in this movie can be found sprawling across each scene in the form of naughty nightmares.
There is a sense of reverence which accompanies Goosebumps, paying homage to an author like Stine, and also Stephen King is mentioned several times. Literary adaptations are synonymous with troubled results, so presenting this as a new story and borrowing Stine’s characters is probably the best road to travel. Fans of the books will probably enjoy the plethora of miscreations on offer which will evoke fond memories, and newcomers can certainly indulge in the spectacle, however the lacklustre script remains a potent problem and the unfortunate reliance on comedic relief suppresses any chance of capturing the original terror of these traumatising tales.
Goosebumps is out in UK cinemas February 5th. Check out more film reviews, or watch a clip from Goosebumps below...