To its credit, Rob Letterman's bumptious comic celebration of the impossibly popular Nineties kiddo fright novels by R.L. Stine spends more than half its running time bending itself to the spirit of Stine, rather than cramming Goosebumps into the studio tentpole template. Even when going for scares, Stine's work has always been smart about its silly dumbness. It's sly, self-aware, jovial — an adjective he appended to his name on the covers of books such as 101 School Cafeteria Jokes.
Like the Goosebumps books, or like some childproofed version of the movies Joe Dante used to make, the movie crams much of creepshow history into an Acme-brand woodchipper and then blasts it all into your face.
But before the mayhem — involving a hovering death poodle, a car-spearing praying mantis, and the best onscreen iteration yet of murderous garden gnomes -- Goosebumps is patient and witty in its setup, even risking moments of beauty. Dylan Minnette plays a high school hunk freshly moved to Delaware, where he's immediately smitten with teen neighbor Hannah (Odeya Rush), who peers from a darkened window. Jack Black quickly turns up as Hannah's mysterious father, warning Hunk Boy never to come near his daughter, but for once he resists going over the top, at first playing the heavy and then -- in a meta twist that delighted me -- an amusingly vain artist.
I'm being vague, because Goosebumps boasts twists I'm glad I had no idea about, going in. Sadly, though, the revelation of the biggest and riskiest of these is the movie's peak, building to some uproarious mocking of Stine himself, and too much of the film's balance is given over to the usual CGI fantasy mishegoss.