dir Rob Letterman
scr Darren Lemke
prd Neal H Moritz, Deborah Forte
with Jack Black, Dylan Minnette, Odeya Rush, Ryan Lee, Amy Ryan, Jillian Bell, Ken Marino, Timothy Simons, Amanda Lund, Halston Sage, Steven Krueger, Keith Arthur Bolden
release US 16.Oct.15, UK 5.Feb.16
15/US Sony 1h43
What next? Black, Rush and Minnette

ryan marino simons
london film fest
R E V I E W    B Y    R I C H    C L I N E
Goosebumps Like Jumanji on steroids, this action-horror romp packs the screen with animated mayhem swirling around an established comedian and a cast of plucky kids. The breathless pace holds the attention, boosted by surprisingly sophisticated gags peppered all the way through. But while working overtime to keep the audience entertained, it undermines every serious point it pretends to make.

After moving to a new town, Zach (Minnette) finds settling into his new high school trickier since his mother Gale (Ryan) is the vice principal. He befriends the over-friendly Champ (Lee) and is intrigued by Hannah (Rush), who lives next door with her over-protective dad, reclusive author RL Stine (Black). Then Zach opens one of the novelist's manuscripts, unwittingly releasing an abominable snowman into the town. Even worse is the next one, the evil ventriloquist dummy Slappy who proceeds to unleash all of RL's creatures. But Zach has an idea that might save the day.

This is an intriguing riff on Stine's novels, mixing all of them together to create maximum mayhem. This lets the filmmakers veer sharply between comedy and horror while filling the screen with digital characters like werewolves, a zombie horde, attacking garden gnomes, an oozing blob and a massive praying mantis. None of these look very convincing on-screen, essentially turning the film into a cartoon when they appear. Although some of the scenes have genuine tension (the werewolf in the supermarket), and Slappy has real menace.

Black hams it up shamelessly, arching his eyebrows while mangling every line with an inexplicably quirky accent (his voice work as Slappy is much more effective). Lee finds a better balance as the goofy Champ. And both are nicely balanced by the teen players, as Minnette and Rush provide some honest fear and a nicely played romantic spark. Meanwhile, Ryan is on hand to provide serious acting chops, ably supported by Bell (as her ditzy sister) and Marino (as an amorous colleague).

Yes, this mix of humour and terror is uneven, with the scariest stuff toned down for a family audience. So there isn't much tension in the plot, which stumbles badly in a convoluted, bloated final action sequence and a gratuitous coda that both undermines the central theme about loneliness and cheats by opening the door for a sequel. In other words, these stories have been drastically manipulated into a studio product. It's enjoyable while it lasts, but beware: they're coming to get you.

cert pg themes, violence 18.Oct.15

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© 2015 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall