REVIEW / HORROR COMEDY
103 minutes/Opens tomorrow/**1/2
THE STORY: After Zach (Dylan Minnette) and his mother Gale (Amy Ryan) move from a big city to a small town, he finds himself an outcast at the high school in which she is the new vice-principal. His discomfort is doubled when he sees his reclusive neighbour Mr Shivers (Jack Black) abusing his daughter Hannah (Odeya Rush).
Books come alive in the most literal sense in this, the latest adaptation of author R.L. Stine's tales of horror for the under-17s.
To make everything big and cinematic, producers have not lifted from one book, but a dozen. And by "lifted", one means "make the most cursory of nods": The monsters are mostly generic types that could have come from any source, despite the furious name-checking of Stine's books by characters.
The Goosebumps series might be aimed at older children and teens, but it becomes apparent that this movie adaptation skews younger, to the under-12s.
A cross between the Night At The Museum series and Inkheart (2008), this work plays it safe on every front, leaning on the charm of comic actor Jack Black and the sweetness of Zach (Minnette) and Hannah (Rush).
It is a formula that has served director Rob Letterman (Monsters Vs Aliens, 2009; Gulliver's Travels, 2010, both of which feature Black) well, mixing as it does adventure and action in family-friendly doses.
Black in a supporting role as Mr Shivers plays his part with an uncharacteristic lack of snark, as does everyone else. The old- fashioned earnestness is welcome. Less so the lack of playfulness.
A fictional bestiary comes to life, but nothing in the story hints at details in their roots in fiction.
Where there should be in-jokes and references to their sources in books and films, the audience gets one scene after another of humans running for their lives.
Shivers, the man with a mystical menagerie, should have been the movie's point of view. Instead, producers opted to see the story through the eyes of vanilla-bland suburban kid Zach, who is smitten with the even blander Hannah, with Champ (Ryan Lee) as the awkward friend and comic relief, also remarkable for his lack of personality.
That artistic decision, more than anything else here, should strike terror in the hearts of moviegoers.