If there’s one thing I know about the Goosebumps books, it’s that they came out in the ’90s and I never read them. They are spooky/funny/gross stories for tweens, yes? And there are like a hundred of them (Goosebumps books, not tweens)? OK, then I’m caught up.
Rather than adapt a particular Goosebump into a film, “Goosebumps” takes the meta approach and throws ’em all into the mix. Teenage Zach (Dylan Minnette) moves with his mom (Amy Ryan) to a boring Delaware town (pardon the redundancy), where their next-door neighbors are a pretty girl named Hannah (Odeya Rush) and her weird, reclusive dad (Jack Black). Dad turns out to be R.L. Stine, author of the Goosebumps series. What’s more, when he wrote the books, the creatures he invented actually came to life! They are now quarantined inside special copies of the book manuscripts, but if you open the books, the monsters get out. Someone opens the books. Et cetera.
Writer Darren Lemke (“Turbo”) and director Rob Letterman (“Monsters vs. Aliens”) keep the tone adventurous, not terrifying. Whatever the books may have been like, the movie is only “scary” in the way that a Halloween party is scary: it deals with scary things, but it won’t actually frighten anyone other than the very, very young. The focus instead is mild excitement, as Zach, Hannah, their screamy comic-relief friend Champ (Ryan Lee), and R.L. Stine try to recapture the monsters before they … kill everyone, I guess. Though nobody ever seems to be in any real danger. (It’s a PG film for kids, after all. The creatures cause a lot of property damage but only one injury.)
Jack Black is an off-putting presence, speaking in a clipped, affected dialect that prevents Stine from ever seeming like a real character. The rest of the leads are natural enough, though the mediocre dialogue Lemke wrote for them doesn’t allow for much authenticity. Other characters — like a pair of police officers, Zach’s unfunny aunt, and a coach who hits on Zach’s mom — are haphazardly dealt with, as if multiple scenes were deleted randomly.
But yes, yes, it’s a kids’ movie, it doesn’t matter if it’s any good. I hear you. As far as that goes, it’s harmless enough, and probably fairly entertaining for boys and girls ages 8 through 12. As long as they’re not expecting, you know, goosebumps.
C+ (1 hr., 43 min.; )