Sunday, May 29, 2016
You've seen the same prescription in dozens of movies. Still mourning his deceased father, a resentful teenager is dragged by his mother to a small town, a new school. Zach (Dylan Minnette) is intrigued by Hannah (Odeya Rush), the quirky girl next door and her reclusive father (Jack Black). And first day of school? Of course, he acquires a comedy-relief sidekick, the socially dysfunctional Champ (Ryan Lee).
One night Hannah leads Zach on an escape to an abandoned, half-completed amusement park ("they ran out of money"). She pulls a lever that's conveniently located out in the open, and the ferris wheel lights up. (I can hear Roger Ebert asking, "What are the chances?") This exists for no special reason other than to serve as a convenient place for the climax.
Concerned that Hannah's being mistreated by her weird father, Zach and Champ concoct a plan to get him out of the house. Their foray to find Hannah goes horribly, and predictably, wrong. They discover her father is, in fact, the noted author of children's horror books, RL Stine. In the movie's only clever plot device, it turns out the monsters he created in his imagination came to life, and have been imprisoned in the original copies of his books. Zach and Champ stumble across them, displayed conveniently in an open bookcase.
Of course, you know what happens next.
Yes, the monsters escape. Abominable snowman. Creepy puppet. Werewolf. Evil poodle. Belligerent lawn gnomes. Zombies. One or two might have been enough to sustain a good chase, battle and climax. But no ... you have be treated to a bewildering and over-the-top set of special effects.
Because special effects are mostly what this movie has going for it. There's not a genuine fright anywhere, and a few chuckles that are tired retreads of better jokes in more interesting movies. You will not be surprised by anything that happens, particularly the insulting have-it-both-ways ending or the final twist-you-knew-was-coming.
Jack Black can sometimes inject a dose of hilarity into movies that are otherwise ailing (School of Rock). But here the patient is already braindead. His young costars deserve some credit for trying to revive this patient with what little they've been given to work with.
Give Goosebumps a pass. It's more likely to give you hives than genuine chills.