Goosebumps is a movie oddly targeted at two very different demographics. The first target is kids, hence the PG rating. The second is millennials in the 25-35 age range who grew up with the source material, the series of books written by R.L. Stine. The books had titles like The Abominable Snowman of Pasadena and Go Eat Worms! and featured affable lead characters who experienced just enough scares to satisfy the elementary-school set.
To satisfy both concerns, Darren Lemke's script goes meta: Instead of bringing one of the stories to the page (that has been done before, namely on TV), Goosebumps makes Stine a character, played by Jack Black, who is tasked with fighting off the monsters he has created. It's a clever take on encompassing the entire Goosebumps brand within one movie, rather than attempting to stretch one of Stine's relatively short stories into a full-length movie.
As someone who grew up with the Goosebumps novels as a constant on my childhood bedside table (Night of the Living Dummy was clearly the best), I can say Goosebumps should work well with both demographics.
Zach (Scandal's Dylan Minnette) moves to a new town and meets Hannah (Odeya Rush, The Giver), the mysterious girl next door whose ultrastrict dad - that would be Stine - won't let her see Zach despite their raging teenage hormones. He's doing this partly because hidden away in the Stine manse is all of the monsters Stine has ever thought up, imprisoned inside padlocked books.
Chaos ensues when Zach and his buddy Champ (Trophy Wife's Ryan Lee) break into the house to save Hannah. Slappy (also voiced by Black), the evil ventriloquist's prop from Night of the Living Dummy, breaks out, freeing the other monsters from their literary tombs.
Black is in full-on camp mode, which can be terribly annoying (think more Nacho Libre, less Bernie), but he's also acting in the milieu of a kids movie, and he's endearing as Stine-as-shut-in, reveling in the metaness of his part. But it's Lee as Champ, playing the perfect awkward-best-friend foil to the everyman hero Zach who is the true standout.
Will Goosebumps work for those who aren't in the PG demographic or have no nostalgic longing for children's books of their youths? It probably will not be the first thing on their must-see lists. But Goosebumps fulfills its purpose, and that's what matters.
Goosebumps *** (Out of four stars)
Directed by Rob Letterman. With Jack Black, Dylan Minnette, Odeya Rush, and Ryan Lee. Distributed by Columbia Pictures.
Running time: 1 hour, 43 mins.
Parent's guide: PG (scary situations, rude humor).
Playing at: Area theaters.