“This movie needed more Jack Black” is a sentence I never thought I would be typing but since when does 2018 make any sense anymore?
“Goosebumps 2: Haunted Halloween” is the sequel to the 2015 film based on the popular book series by R.L. Stine. This time around, a trio of young high schoolers (Madison Iseman, Jeremy Ray Taylor and Caleel Harris) must stop Slappy the ventriloquist dummy from unleashing all the monsters from the book into the real world (again). Ari Sandel directs.
The first “Goosebumps” film was for the most part a welcome surprise. It had some (surprisingly) dark humor and fun visuals and was aided by an entertaining performance from Jack Black. While Black returns to voice Slappy the Dummy for the sequel, the film no longer focuses on him and that is just one of many reasons why “Haunted Halloween” simply doesn’t work.
Many film sequels are bad because they have no reason to exist and/or simply rehash the plot of the first film (“Deadpool 2,” “The Hangover Part II,” etc). This falls into that realm, as the film is basically the same thing as the first, with the evil puppet wanting to unleash the monsters into the world and a group of young kids needing to use Stine’s original manuscript to capture them. Nothing feels fresh or surprising, and this plot was even done better with “Scooby-Doo: Monsters Unleashed” (the two Scooby-Doo films were always a guilty pleasure of mine). So many events here are deus ex machinas so it eradicates even the faintest amount of tension or suspense (example, a character tells another they hid the book and they’ll never find it, only to have them find it in the first place they look).
Jeremy Ray Taylor is best known for his role in the “It” film from last year and since then his voice has dropped a full octave. Taylor and Caleel Harris have brief moments of chemistry as young best friends, but so many of their lines and delivery are awkward or unnatural and without any conflict to come between them the film just feels uninspired. Madison Iseman is also..fine, in her role, although the thing I got the biggest kick out of was that she played the high school girl that “became” Jack Black in the “Jumanji” reboot last year.
This is much more kid-friendly than the first installment, and I don’t think it was for the better. Like I said, the first “Goosebumps” has some adult innuendos and somewhat mean-spirited humor but this is mostly just slapstick and basic PG stuff. There’s nothing inherently wrong with that, but it doesn’t help the viewing experience of anyone over the age of 8.
“Goosebumps 2: Haunted Halloween” is more boring than it is bad but sometimes that is the worst thing a film can be. None of the creature designs or costumes are engaging like they were the first time around and without Jack Black there holding the reigns the film loses the audience’s attention quickly. They say never judge a book by its cover but I think just looking at the posters it was safe to say this film should have stayed on the shelf.
Critic’s Grade: D+