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First Look Review - GOOSEBUMPS

RL Stine's series of books gets the big screen treatment.


Review by Joshua Mitchell (@jlfm97)

Directed by: Rob Letterman

Starring: Jack Black, Dylan Minnette, Odeya Rush, Amy Ryan, Ken Marino


"Goosebumps attempts to emulate the wacky PG horror-comedies of the 1980s and '90s, but it doesn't have the nerve to go all the way with its frights and comedy. It tries too hard to be appropriate for the whole family, thus forgetting to be fun for the whole family."




Goosebumps is the latest PG-rated comedy to misunderstand the term 'family film.' While it has enough rampant CGI and kid-friendly humour to entertain young children, teens and their parents will be mildly amused at best in a 'spooky' adventure that's mundane and unremarkable. Director Rob Letterman has constructed a completely harmless and utterly perfunctory film that, in spite of short bursts of genuine fun, never really engages.
After moving into a new town with his mother, high-schooler Zach Cooper befriends a girl living next door named Hannah. Hannah's father, however, is extremely protective of his daughter, and forbids the friendship from continuing any further. Zach's suspicions of Hannah's father leads him to believe that something sinister is going on, so he breaks into their home with the help of another high-schooler named Champ. Inside the house, they discover a collection of Goosebumps manuscripts and by opening them, the classic monsters from the novels leap off the page and begin to terrorise the small town.
While the premise itself is ripe for comedic-tinged horror on the level of Gremlins, Goosebumps is far too timid in its intentions to ever come close to achieving the manic fun of similar efforts. Lacking the nerve to attempt anything truly scary, Goosebumps instead contents itself with derivative humor that will work for the under-10's, but little else. Some of the gags find their mark, but many of them are groaners.
Darren Lemke's script is a mess. As mentioned, the humour is very hit-or-miss. Furthermore, the characters and their related comedic bits are boring, worn-out cliches. Audiences are tired of seeing the mom trying to be hip, the nerdy kid attempting to be suave, and the 'smart girl' who's always one step ahead of her male companions. But the biggest problem is the script's massive logical leaps. The script contradicts itself on multiple occasions, and flat-out breaks its own rules on others. It becomes exceedingly difficult to emerge oneself in the fantasy of the film when it's clear that the film itself isn't convinced by its own story.  
Jack Black's talents are wasted on a bland character, though his additional role performing the voice for Slappy the Puppet is fun, even though the script prevents Slappy as a primary antagonist from being too memorable. Dylan Minnette actually sells himself as the lead quite well, making a flimsy script work as well as it could have. Odeya Rush as Hannah is fine, while Ryan Lee as Champ is insufferable. Amy Ryan, who made the most of her limited screen presence in Bridge of Spies fails to do the same here. Jillian Bell gets by far the most laughs of the cast as Zach's Aunt Lorraine, but her screen time is limited.
In recent years, the 'scary' family movie has been highlighted by stop-motion successes like Coraline, ParaNorman and Frankenweenie. These are films that are funny and a bit frightening at times, while still retaining a PG rating and appealing to the whole family (though Coraline arguably demands an older audience). Goosebumps is not nearly as scary nor funny as those efforts. It tries too hard to be appropriate for the whole family, thus forgetting to be fun for the whole family. It attempts to emulate the wacky PG horror-comedies of the 1980s and '90s, but it doesn't have the nerve to go all the way with its frights and comedy. The result is a toothless affair that passes the time easily enough, but is ultimately an unsatisfying endeavour.




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