*minor spoilers, I suppose*
Growing up, I never read the Goosebumps books (I loosely knew what they were but that was the extent of my knowledge), so I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect on Monday evening when I sat down to watch the movie. I recalled a bit of buzz for it back in October when it was released in ‘Murika, with some talking about a supposed great Jack Black performance, but that was about it. The trailer looked fun enough, but the majority of “fun American comedies” usually end up not being particularly funny or fun. So, I was pleasantly surprised when Goosebumps actually was a lot of fun.
I should probably say now that there’s nothing about this movie which is particularly revolutionary – or, arguably, interesting. There’s a lot of hokey dialogue, the characters and their development were pretty standard and the visual palette is the same as what we’ve seen a million times before. You’ve got a mother and her kid moving to a new town after the dad dies, he goes to a new school and makes friends with the nerd, there’s a cute neighbour and they have a wacky adventure yada yada. You’ve seen it all before, but thankfully director Rob Letterman makes up for these shortcomings with the awesome smorgasbord of monsters and adventure which populates the rest of the film, as well as Jack Black’s excellent R.L. Stine.
With the smart decision to make a pseudo-Goosebumps adaptation the movie basically had free rein to do whatever the hell it wanted with the various creatures, crossing them over with one another to their heart’s delight. The army of – somewhat adorable – killer gnomes had to be my favourite of the bunch, with Slappy the Dum- uh, just Slappy – coming a close second, voiced with utter maniacal glee by Black himself. Regardless, all of the monsters were sufficiently awesome, delivering a nice throwback to the days of many childhoods spent imagining what would happen if a werewolf or a mummy were to appear in Delaware, or whether a ventriloquist’s dummy could ever take on a mind of its own (Buffy, anyone?). Indeed, this is pretty much indicative of most of the movie; once The Abominable Snowman of Pasadena opens up, the movie gets a much-needed jolt of energy, and the rest is filled with the kind of fun and adventure which would fit right into the Amblin era of the 1980’s.
Performance-wise, the kids do alright, with Ryan Lee – whom I didn’t even realise was in Super 8, but now that I do I love him even more – being the best of the bunch. He was the perfect blend of goofiness and nerdiness you’d expect from this kind of character, but he nonetheless managed to be charming and often hilarious in a role which has been done so many times before. Odeya Rush makes her big Hollywood break in this movie but her acting too often veers towards generic, Nickelodeon-style stuff. Dylan Minnette was fine; they seemed to want a lead similar to Mikey in The Goonies – serious yet somewhat innocent and likeable – but the writing isn’t quite there. However, his chemistry with Lee really shines through, and their back-and-forth generated a fair few laughs in the audience.
And for some reason I sat through the whole movie thinking he was Tye Sheridan; since I saw the credits I’ve been trying to figure out where I’ve seen him before and finally found out when I was researching the movie for this review – he’s Jack fucking Shephard’s kid from Lost!
Jack Black was probably on-par with Ryan Lee in terms of performances; some of it was a little hammy (although the dialogue didn’t help) but he does a great job of portraying the wacky and reclusive R.L. Stine. At the start of the movie it’s fun to watch him as the mentor who’s clearly been through some shit and doesn’t have time for kids, and by the end, when he’s softened up and wants to protect them, he’s just as interesting to watch.
There’s a really good scene after the Abominable Snowman is captured where Champ (Lee), Zach (Minnette) and Hannah (Rush) are being driven home by Black; upon realising who he is, Champ proceeds to completely lose it – his character is a huge Goosebumps fan, which ended up being pretty fun – and Stine is completely irritated by yet another annoying fan. When Champ teases him that he’s “not as good as Stephen King,” Stine halts the car and angrily explains how ‘Steve’ wishes he could be like him. Perhaps it’s just my love for meta-humour, but the fun banter between all the characters was evidently present there.
Goosebumps won’t exactly change filmmaking forever, but if you’ve got a couple of hours to kill and you want to just have a fun, classic monster-filled throwback of a time, then certainly go and check it out.
Goosebumps hits UK cinemas on February 5th. If you happen to live in the US and liked the sound of it from this review, then you’ve missed it by three months.