“Goosebumps,” a movie roughly based on the popular “Goosebumps” children’s books by R.L. Stine, wastes its source material.
Since 1992, Stine’s horror-comedy books have sold more than 400 million copies worldwide. But “Goosebumps,” the movie, is junk cinema, stuffed with noise, clichés, annoying, frantic action and a wall-to-wall musical score by Danny Elfman that always telegraphs danger.
As mean Mr. Shivers, Jack Black sweats and grimaces through his worst screen performance. Mr. Shivers, hint, hint, is a fictionalized version of Stine. In “Goosebumps,” the movie, 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 the 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 in Our Stars” and “Twilight” movies, the eight “Goosebumps” 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-note Dylan Minnette, moves next door to Stine and Hannah. He’s the teen-boy spark that puts the movie’s contrived action in motion.
“Goosebumps,” as the film’s production notes state, aimed to create a bigger experience than the “Goosebumps” books or TV series. “The script needed to capture the essence of the ‘Goosebumps’ books, but also deliver a big movie ride for the audience,” one of the producers explained.
Big bore is more like it. Populated by the legions of monsters in Stine’s borrowed catalog of creatures, the movie features monsters that walk, run, crawl and fly. Meanwhile, the story runs short on scares and laughs.
Usually, comic actor Black steals any film he’s in. In “Gooosebumps,” his familiar intensity calcifies into grimness. He spends most of the movie scowling.
As if one bad Black performance isn’t enough, he also provides the voice for Slappy, a demon in a ventriloquist dummy’s body made in the actor’s image.
The film’s first conflict, of course, is Stine’s objection to Zach getting anywhere near Hannah.
“You stay away from my daughter, you stay away from me!” Stine warns Zach.
Not likely, because Hannah immediately takes Zach on a “Twilight”-style adventure in the woods, a twinkling romantic interlude of the kind that only happen in movies.
Stine’s dislike of his new neighbor takes a back seat after Zach and his toothy, new sort-of-friend, Champ, break into Stine’s house to investigate.
Easy to guess that they’ll release monstrous trouble. Silly monsters, bland dialogue spoken by humans and one stale tense spot after another follow.
Even the very young children who are the expected audience for “Goosebumps” deserve more than noise and clichés.