Review – Smashing Pumpkins (“Goosebumps 2: Haunted Halloween”)

How about a sequel to that Goosebumps movie but, instead of writing a whole new movie with a whole new plot, you just decide to recycle the same story from the first movie, with a couple of changes thrown in. Gee, ya think anyone will notice?

Goosebumps starred Jack Black as the ridiculously pretentious author R. L. Stine, creator of the Goosebumps legacy. The movie was, simple enough, about his ‘original manuscript book collection’ accidentally being opened by some kids and releasing his dastardly creatures and evil monsters into the real world, including the ring-leader (and Stine’s sinister doppelganger), Slappy, a homicidal ventriloquist dummy. And, of course, it was up to a bunch of teenagers to save the day with Stine’s help. So, is this sequel any different from that plot? You tell me.

Sometime after the events of the previous movie, we now shift to Wardenclyffe, N.Y. where, just before Halloween, two rascally kids are getting into trouble. Pre-teen Sonny (Jeremy Ray Taylor) is busy getting his Tesla school project ready (since the town houses Tesla’s Tower, his masterful creation), while his BFF Sam (Caleel Harris) has a nutty get-rich-scheme in the works. Sonny’s older teenage sister, Sarah (Madison Iseman–who looks alot like a young Hayden Panettiere) is a budding creative writer who just got jilted and is in NO mood for any nonsense from these two boys. Problem is, she’s in for a world of unbelievable craziness.

While scavenging an abandoned house (Stine’s old home), the guys accidentally stumble across the authors original unfinished manuscript called Haunted Halloween. When they open it, they release the demonic ventriloquist dummy Slappy (voiced by Jack Black) who, for reasons in the book apparently, desperately wants a family. At first he helps the boys out, but soon he goes all Chucky on them and their sister. They try to get rid of the evil talking doll, but that just pisses him off.

Slappy, going to the Goosebumps aisle of the local Halloween store (’cause, y’know, every store has one of those, right?), transforms all of the masks, costumes, etc. into the real deal and turns them loose on the unsuspecting town. Not satisfied with that, the ol’ Slapster plans to create a Halloween Apocalypse by using the abandoned Tesla Tower to bring to life every Halloween ornament, statue, pumpkin, and ghoulish creation. This includes a 50-ft tall spider balloon sculpture by Halloween over-enthusiast, Mr. Chu (Ken Jeong), who’s also a rabid Stine fan.

Anyway, with chaos in the streets, monsters, witches, and creatures running amuck, who do the kids call? No, not the Ghostbusters, but Mr. Shivers (aka R. L. Stine–played by Jack Black) to come and save the day… again. Well, if you saw the first movie, you already know what happens in this movie, which is a shame as screenwriter Rob Lieber almost wrote a decent sequel. I say almost because the first part of the movie, although a near copy-cat of the first film, was different, inasmuch as Slappy took center stage this time as a malevolent (pardon the pun) puppet master. Lieber turned Slappy into a sinister Chucky, but without the bloody body count. It was unusual, exciting, fun, and best of all, unexpected. But then came the third act.

Suddenly it fell into “oh yeah, it’s a Goosebumps movie! Let loose all the damn monsters again”. At very least Lieber (the excellent Peter Rabbit) got in some very funny moments and dialogue before the inevitable clichéd conclusion and dreaded plot holes. There’s even a sly dig delivered by Stine aimed at Stephen King regarding his book/movie, IT. Geez, Stine, give it a rest already! We KNOW you’ve sold more books than King! Sheesh!  Director Ari Sandel does a nice job directing this, considering he’s only directed two other forgettable movies (The Duff, When First We Met). His next movie? He’ll be doing Monster High, an animated kids film based on a line of girls dolls, like Barbie. Oy.

Besides having Black back, for what amounts to be an extended cameo, the kids are solid in their roles. Taylor and Harris make a fun pair who don’t act all goofy or stupid when the story gets going full-tilt. Iseman is a real find; charming and watchable. The only let-downs in the movie are the adults! Jeong does his Jeong-schtick better than anybody and that means he gets annoying real fast. Wendi McLendon-Covey as the kids single mom plays it odd. . .I mean, really odd. Does she even HAVE any emotions? She’s cocooned in a spider’s web, ready to killed, and she’s as calm as a cucumber. Huh?? Still, it wasn’t too bad as far as sequels go and (Lord help us) yup, there’s gonna be a part three, if the ending’s tease is any indication. Yikes!!

Goosebumps (2015)

R.L. Stine, the prolific author of over 270 kids horror books/stories, video games, TV shows, and novels, wants you to know how incredible he really is! So, here’s a movie all about him and how great a writer he is! He even shows up in a cameo at the end like Stan Lee does in all the Marvel movies. Not too narcissistic, huh?

With a script by Darren Lemke, who gave us the tepid Jack the Giant Slayer and Shrek Goes Fourth, and music by Danny Elfman, who recycles his own Bettlejuice score, Goosebumps is an hour and 34 minute long product placement for Stine, his books, and anything else he can sell us. BUT it does have the very funny Jack Black (who looks nothing like Stine whatsoever), so it’s got that going for it.

Madison, Delaware is where Zach Cooper (Dylan Minnette) and his mom Gale (Amy Ryan) have arrived from NYC. Gale’s the new vice principle at his new high school and Zach’s not happy about moving…however the girl next door IS rather cute. Hannah (Odeya Rush–looking like a young Mila Kunis) lives with her very creepy black horned-rimmed glasses father, Mr. Shivers (Black). We also meet Gale’s ditzy sister Lorraine (Jillian Bell) who’s into bedazzling things, and the nerdy school geek, Champ (Ryan Lee), who takes a liking to Zach.

Anyway, Zach thinks Hannah’s dad is hurting her and gets him out of the house long enough to investigate with Champ. But they stumble upon the locked original books of R.L. Stine and a special key to unlock them. Why are they locked? Before you can say “plot twist”, Zach unwittingly opens a book and BOOM! The huge Abominable Snowman of Pasadena pops out of the book and starts to terrorize the town. As Hannah, Champ, and Zach try to get the beast back in the book (’cause that’s how you capture them), another secret is exposed.

Mr. Shivers reveals that he is R.L. Stine and all those books contain REAL creatures from his imagination. More problems arise when Stine’s twisted alter-ego, the homicidal ventriloquist dummy Slappy (voiced by Black) is set free and steals all the books, letting loose ALL the dangerous creatures from their books to destroy the town. Worse yet, he’s burned all the books, so the monsters cant go back in! Solution? Stine must write another book to make all these bad things go away, but he can only do it on his original Smith-Corona typewriter which is on display at the school!

So, the race is on! Hannah, Stine, Zach, and Champ must now get to the school and have Stine write that happy ending on his old typewriter, while being pursued by a myriad of unbelievable monsters. Attacking lawn gnomes! A sneaker-wearing werewolf! A Godzilla-sized praying mantis! Ghouls! Killer Jell-O! And through all the running and escaping, Zach makes a startling discovery about Hannah that… well, that’s a surprise.

Although the real R. L. Stine was consulted on this film, his writing prowess was not. I’ve never read any of the Goosebumps booksor seen any of the TV shows, but I have to believe they’re way better than this, considering the $400 million he’s made in sales and more books sold than Stephen King, facts that Stine HAS to mention in the movie. Yeah, he really wants you to know that.

Directed by Rob Letterman, whose only other live action movie was 2010’s terrible Gulliver’s Travels (with Jack Black), the man should stick to animated films like his Shark Tale and Monsters vs Aliens. The directing was unbalanced and sloppy at times with way too many close-ups for some odd reason. But even that can be forgiven, if it weren’t for the hokey screenplay with enough plot holes to fill up a library. The dialogue did have some witty lines at times, I’ll give it that, but the story was so convoluted and filled with so many ridiculous, implausible moments that is was hard to enjoy.

But then there’s Jack Black. His appearance on film, as a weirder, plumper, version of Stine, was the one shining light in this movie. Not only did he look like he was having fun with the role, but he was acting like a different Black than he normally does. Kudos for him!

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