“Every story ever told can be broken down into three parts. The beginning. The middle. And the twist.”
The farther that we delve and we dig into the reasonably innocuous Goosebumps, the more we realize that the movie is just making things up as it goes along. There’s an idea, and another, and then one more, and by film’s end we’re left with a story that betrays its own central theme. Like the monsters here, some who we know on sight and others we remember on the drive home, that theme spends most of its time locked away. Frustration should be felt watching this. With a solid message on letting go and a bevy of formulaic books to draw characters from, this family friendly film really could have been something special. But it’s not. Goosebumps will begin to collect dust sooner than later.
Moving from the streets of New York to the small suburbs of Delaware, Zach (Dylan Minnettte) and his mom Gale (Amy Ryan) are set to start a new chapter in each of their lives. Goosebumps offers a lot of story material to work with, so much so that everything feels vacuum sealed. Zach’s dad passed away a year ago. He’s friendless at the High School where his mom is now Vice Principal. She gets hit on by the football coach. Crazy Aunt Lorraine (Jillian Bell) bedazzles clothes and reminds Zach that he’s no longer an ugly baby. There are clueless cops, a horny new friend named Champ (Ryan Lee), strange neighbors next door. It’s as if screenwriter Darren Lemke watched every old VHS classic and pulled strings from each until he had a knot to call his story. The cast and the crew can’t untie this mess.
Few qualms are to be had with the cast outside of Jack Black as the reclusive author R.L. Stine. Black plays not the real man, but a shell and a charade, so it’s not his fault alone that Stine is pulled this way and that without reason. Movies require logic, and Goosebumps has none. It’s pure stock, bookended with orders still waiting to be put on the shelves. No artistry goes into any of them save for Hannah (Odeya Rush), the pretty home-schooled girl next door with the overbearing authoritarian father. Rush is an incredible young actress, as evidenced last year in The Giver. Some people simply have eyes that draw you in and instantly connect. Rush is blessed with the kind of hypnotic aquamarine crystal balls full of all the right answers. Why couldn’t the film have had the same amount of promise? You watch it, occasionally laugh, but rather than place yourself in the movie you start to think of others. Hocus Pocus, The ‘Burbs, The Blob, Disturbia, Small Soldiers, Jumanji.
As with all movies, you’ll watch this and come to your own conclusion. I have mine. You have yours. There is a mutual sense of definition there wavering somewhere in the middle. In all honesty though, I’m not sure I’ve been more let down by a wide release film so far this year. The beginning is unassuming, the middle impractical, and the twist of an ending a little revolting. And yes, Goosebumps does end with a twist, one as unsatisfying as an Uncle writhing your arm into pieces with the ol’ Indian rug burn maneuver. Look back at the opening paragraph and you’ll remember I said the theme is letting go. Which is what Rob Letterman’s film initially and reluctantly does. Then comes a twister, a tornado to blow through all of the proceedings, and the wicked winds uproot everything that came before. Goosebumps is the kind of movie you can vacant-mindedly enjoy, and that’s because the foolish amount of CGI and Danny Elfman’s brass heavy score lull us into a stupor, driving straight into the blinding headlights of stupid full speed ahead.
“Don’t take it personally. He doesn’t really like anyone.”
Rating: 2 out of 5