Film review: Go ahead and laugh at Goosebumps - it wants you to

Film review: Go ahead and laugh at Goosebumps - it wants you to
Goosebumps stars Jack Black as author RL Stine.
PHOTO: Golden Village Pictures

Run Time: 103 min

Genre: Comedy-horror

Grade: 3/5 pumpkins

Most kids who were born in the 90s would be familiar with the following things: the television show Friends, the seminal Harry Potter series that ushered in an era of peer-influenced reading, and the cheesy-creepy-funny Goosebumps series by RL Stine.

Aiming to capture that nostalgia, Rob Letterman's formulaic Goosebumps is exactly what you would imagine a Goosebumps motion picture would be like: self-referential, cliched and predictable. What I didn't expect however, would be how comfortable the film is to be all those things.

In essence, Goosebumps revolves around the small town of Greendale, Maryland where Young Adult (YA) author, RL Stine (Jack Black) resides with his daughter, Hannah (Odeya Rush). When new neighbours - Zach (Dylan Minnette) and his mother, Gale, (Amy Ryan) - move in, and Zach accidentally unleashes the author's monsters on the town, Zach teams up with Hannah, Stine and his friend, Champ (Ryan Lee), to take on the evil creations.

With a dash of meta humour, Goosebumps is an unexpectedly solid, if safe piece of entertainment, that earns its place in the YA canon. With that in mind, here are three reasons to catch Goosebumps at the cinema:

Yes, it's funny

Sure, it suffers from contrivance and cliche, but Darren Lemke's screenplay, based on a story by writers Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski, mostly does a good job of wringing laughs out of situations designed for slapstick comedy. The humour mostly comes from Jillian Bell (playing Zach's aunt, Lorraine), who single-handedly elevates every scene she is in (more on this later).

You will get nostalgic

The children watching the film probably won't remember much - but the adults will definitely remember how omnipresent Stine's books were in the 90s and 00s, and how 'real' these creepy school settings felt, given how Stine's affinity for the macabre seems to bleed right out of the page. Yes, the monsters you conjured in your imagination are probably scarier than the toothless creations in the film, but that doesn't mean that you won't enjoy the memories the teenage camaraderie brings forth.

The acting (or rather, Jillian Bell deserves a full-blown comic vehicle)

The leads are largely bland and uninteresting, with Hannah verging on that dreaded 'manic pixie dream girl' trope that will undoubtedly add to the ongoing industry debate about how women are depicted onscreen. Black does his usual shtick, imbuing his character with unnecessary affectations. Ryan is criminally underused (anyone who has seen The Office knows that she is a gifted comic actor).

It is Bell, however, who steals the entire film from the more prominently featured actors. Best known for her zany, career-making turn as the villain in 22 Jump Street, Bell is by far the best thing in Goosebumps, and deserves a leading role in a vehicle worthy of her talents.

Goosebumps opens in cinemas on Oct 29.

Check out other movies that are opening on Oct 29 here.

prabukm@sph.com.sg

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