“Goosebumps,” a movie roughly based on the children’s books by R.L. Stine, squanders its popular source material.
Since 1992, Stine’s horror-comedy books have sold more than 400 million copies worldwide. But the “Goosebumps” movie is junk cinema, stuffed with noise and clichés, annoying and frantic action and a wall-to-wall musical score by Danny Elfman that constantly telegraphs danger.
As the mean Mr. Shivers, Jack Black sweats and grimaces through his worst screen performance. Mr. Shivers — hint, hint — is a pseudonym that Black’s character uses to cover-up that he’s actually “the” R.L. Stine. In “Goosebumps,” the Shivers-Stine character is both a famous children’s author and an incognito eccentric who constantly moves from town to town.
Stine lives with his teen daughter, Hannah. Odeya Rush plays the girl on the run with her super-secretive dad. Rush supplies the movie with its only poignancy and charm.
Perhaps to appeal to the young-adult audience that loved “The Fault is in Our Stars” and the “Twilight” movies, the film’s eight producers and three writers pair Hannah with a new boy who moves to her small town in Delaware. The earnestly dull, humorless Zach, played by the one-noting Dylan Minnette, moves next door to Stine and Hannah. He’s the teen-boy spark that puts the movie’s shamelessly contrived action in motion.
The producers of “Goosebumps,” as the film’s production notes explain, aimed to create a bigger experience than the “Goosebumps” books or TV series. “The script needed to capture the true essence of the ‘Goosebumps’ books, but also deliver a big movie ride for the audience,” one of them said.
Big bore is more like it. Populated by every monster in Stine’s already borrowed catalog of creatures, the movie contains legions of all varieties of monsters. They walk, run, crawl and fly. Meanwhile, the story runs short on the most beloved ingredients in Stine’s books — scares and laughs.
Usually, Black is a comic actor who steals any film he’s in. In “Goosebumps,” his familiar intensity calcifies into mean grimness. He spends most of the film scowling and, like most of the principal cast, running.
As if one bad Black performance isn’t enough, he also provides the voice and image for Slappy, a demon in a ventriloquist dummy’s body.
The film’s first conflict is Stine’s objection to Zach getting anywhere near Hannah.
“You stay away from my daughter, you stay away from me, and we won’t have any problem!” Stine warns Zach.
Not likely, especially because Hannah immediately takes Zach on a “Twilight”-style adventure in the woods, one of those twinkling romantic interludes that only happen in movies.
Stine’s dislike of his new neighbor takes a back seat after Zach and his toothy, goofy new sort of friend, Champ, break into the Stine house to investigate its mysteries. Easy to guess that they’ll release a vast amount of monstrous trouble. Silly monsters, dumb dialogue spoken by the humans and one stale tight spot after another follow.
The audience most likely to enjoy “Goosebumps” is very young children. Even they deserve more than action and noise.