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Jack Black stars in Goosebumps with an engaging lynch mob of monsters who are in a bid to get vengeance on their creator for keeping them locked up.

Columbia Pictures

3 out of 4 stars

Written by
Darren Lemke, Scott Alexander, Larry Karaszewski
Directed by
Rob Letterman
Starring
Jack Black, Dylan Minnette, Odeya Rush
Classification
PG
Country
USA
Language
English

I suppose you could consider the Goosebumps movie as a piece of metafiction. It speculates what might happen if every monster ever invented by the American children's author R.L. Stine in his popular Goosebumps series came to life at the same time. Crack open the book covers and the abominable snowman, a giant preying mantis, a posse of murderous ceramic gnomes and many, many zombies are all let loose. Literally. Well, perhaps not literally, but at least physically thanks to the animators at Sony.

In truth, the concept – and the story woven by screenwriters Scott Alexander, Larry Karaszewski and Darren Lemke to justify it – is more interesting than the rather predictable attack-of-the-killer-monsters that follows, but with its strong premise, an interesting third-act twist and the inimitable Jack Black in the role of Stine, Goosebumps has some satisfying entertainment on offer.

The story begins when our pleasant teenage hero Zach (Dylan Minnette) arrives in Madison, Del., from New York accompanied by his recently widowed mother who is taking up a new job as vice-principal at the local high school. He soon meets the girl next door, Hannah (Odeya Rush), who seems nice and takes him on a little stroll around an abandoned amusement park in the woods, but her suspiciously secretive father catches them talking and warns Zach off the property.

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When Zach hears an ensuing father-daughter shouting match terminated by Hannah's screams, he calls the cops, who arrive at the house to find the noise only came from the movie that a very annoyed and apparently solitary Mr. Stine was watching. Convinced that he really did meet Hannah and that she is hidden in the house somewhere, Zach and his new pal, the nerdy Champ (Ryan Lee), break in, setting in motion the events that will lead to opening up Mr. Stine's locked manuscripts.

One-on-one, the monsters are engaging – one of the early sequences features an amusing brawl in the kitchen with the garden gnomes – but things become much less clever once Slappy, the eerily independent ventriloquist's dummy, shows up and corrals all the other monsters into a lynch mob in a bid to get vengeance on their creator for keeping them locked up. Mr. Stine, Hannah, the boys and the monsters all eventually converge at the school dance where there are many scenes of stampeding crowds making it through doors just in time to slam them in the faces of various pursuing monsters.

Still, director Rob Letterman and the screenwriters have another trick or two up their sleeves plus a few romantic subplots including the not entirely predictable hook-up between Zach and Hannah while Black's reliable presence as the increasingly less grumpy Mr. Stine anchors the film. This is horror intended for the prepubescent set; it gently mocks the traditions of the genre – giant preying mantis rips roof off high school – while never getting too frightening.

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