Monday, October 19, 2015

GOOSEBUMPS Is A Charming, Old-School Kid-Adventure Movie


- How to take dozens and dozens of Goosebumps books and make them into one movie? The creative minds behind the GOOSEBUMPS movie have found a fun way to do it. Casting Jack Black as real-life series author R.L. Stine, the movie posits that the creepy creatures of Stine's books would magically come to life if not sealed tight within their original manuscripts. This leaves Stine and his now-teenage daughter perpetually on-the-run, fleeing whatever small town they've settled into when a monster accidentally gets loose and suspicions begin to get raised. But now, just as Stine thinks he's found a nice, quiet place to settle into and raise his daughter, the boy next door befriends her, sneaks into Stine's house, and, next thing you know ... monsters, ghouls, and evil talking puppets are running amok.

I really dug Goosebumps. It's squarely in the tradition of classic 80's and early 90's kid-adventure movies - a genre that largely gets ignored these days (with the occasional standout film like Sky High to the rescue). But for people of a certain age, there's a definite nostalgic charm in seeing a new film that calls to mind the likes of E.T., The Goonies, The Monster Squad, etc. All the markings are here - small-town suburban kids thrust into a big adventure, a crush-worthy girl next door, adults who just-don't-understand, and geeky sidekicks who might just have their big hero moment coming.
alike without ever becoming too cheesy or groan-worthy. This really feels like a labor of love made
What makes Goosebumps work is that it's got that classic 80's-style Amblin vibe, but it's not just coasting on nostalgia. The humor is smart and genuinely funny, and the dialogue often had me laughing out loud. It's also got just enough big, dumb, goofy charm to win over kids and adults by smart, funny people as opposed to something just slapped together to make a quick buck.
Jack Black is a ton of fun as R.L. Stine. He's in completely over-the-top mode, doing a weird accent and looking perpetually vexed at the kids who've unleashed his collective works upon the hapless citizenry. But you've also got to hand it to the cast of teen actors who are supremely likable and do a good job of bringing both humor and heart to the table. Dylan Minette is a capable everyman as Zach, Ryan Lee is really funny as Champ, the nerdy friend with a big heart, and Odeya Rush is excellent as Hannah - Stine's daughter, who has more to her than meets the eye.

There's also a who's-who of talented and funny actors in the supporting cast. Amy Ryan as Zach's mother, Jillian Bell as his overbearing aunt, Ken Marino as the very Ken Marino-ish coach at Zach's school. These are the kind of actors who can land jokes like nobody's business, and that only adds to the on-point humor.

Where the movie falters a little bit is with the actual monsters. The Goosebumps books provide no shortage of terrifying creations for the film to utilize, but overall there aren't that many memorable baddies to speak of. The standout is Slappy the Dummy - a wise-cracking, sadistic ventriloquist's dummy who leads the attack of unleashed-from-the-books antagonists. Slappy is fun and suitably nasty, but the other monsters are mostly just background noise. And only at the very end of the film do we see them attack en mass, so there are minimal scenes of them truly causing chaos on an epic scale. What's more, the creature design is a bit underwhelming, with a lot of the monsters looking a bit bargain-basement.

Even if the movie doesn't quite deliver the sort of memorable monsters that Goosebumps fans may have hoped, there's plenty to like here. Director Rob Letterman and his team of writers nail enough of the comedy, characters, and overall sense of fun to make this one a pleasant surprise - a just-spooky-enough adventure that will likely charm moviegoers with its old-school sensibilities and smartly-done humor.

My Grade: B+

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