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Chicken-skin moments few in ‘Goosebumps’ sequel

  • COURTESY COLUMBIA PICTURES

    Caleel Harris, Madison Iseman, Slappy and Jeremy Ray Taylor star in “Goosebumps 2: Haunted Halloween.”

In 2015, children’s horror author R.L. Stine’s most famous work made it to the big screen with “Goosebumps,” a spooky, kid-friendly romp based on his 1990s book series. It’s follow-up, “Goosebumps 2: Haunted Halloween,” though fun, comes off more like a direct-to-video adaptation of the original’s story than a stand-alone addition to the franchise.

Directed by Ari Sandel (“The Duff”), “Goosebumps 2” follows geeky best friends Sonny (“It“‘s Jeremy Ray Taylor) and Sam (“Castle Rock“‘s Caleel Harris) as they attempt to start a junk-removal business in Wardencylffe, N.Y. The pair finds a tattered, old book during a clean-out that, when opened, resurrects devilish ventriloquist dummy Slappy, the same baddie from the first film, as well as Stine’s book series. Lonely and in need of a family, Slappy uses his magical powers to create one by bringing to life all the town’s Halloween decorations to lightly terrorize the area without being too scary.

Perhaps not surprisingly, the monsters are the real stars of “Goosebumps 2.” From a headless horseman and giant spider made of balloons, to vicious, living gummy bears and jack-o’-lanterns that spit fire, the movie has just about all the Halloween kitsch your average small town can muster. Even the local pharmacy’s Halloween aisle comes to life, spewing out chattering, spider-legged skulls and rubber masks that sprout monstrous bodies. It may just be a record for most monsters on-screen in 90 minutes, but good luck keeping count.

The sheer number of monsters in the movie serves as a stand-in for its weak plot — a retread of the first film, in which Stine’s monsters attack a small town in Delaware. The stakes feel lower because we’ve seen them before, and with Slappy and his crew providing little threat outside mild jump scares, any sense of urgency is lost. After all, what’s the giant balloon spider going to do if it does get you? Do they even need to eat, or do they run on helium? The world may never know.

The film’s human characters also suffer as a result of the recycled plot, with Sandel diving headlong into the film’s monster-filled payoff in the third act. Skipping that character development makes it tough to care about any of them, but Harris and Taylor do a serviceable job with the parts they were given. “The Goldbergs”’ Wendi McLendon-Covey, “The Hangover” star Ken Jeong and “Saturday Night Live“‘s Chris Parnell, meanwhile, are pitch perfect as the film’s grown-ups. “Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle” star Madison Iseman’s Sarah, sister to Taylor’s Sonny, however, ends up being a bore, and finds more drama in writing a college essay than fighting supernatural beasts.

Sadly, “Goosebumps 2” suffers mostly from too little Jack Black, who portrayed Stine in the 2015 original. He does reprise his role here, and voices Slappy, appearing only toward the end of the film in a role that might as well have not even been included. Surprising, considering that Black carried the first film. Fans may want to stick to “The House with a Clock in its Walls,” another new kids’ horror movie that features Black in the main role.

“GOOSEBUMPS 2: HAUNTED HALLOWEEN”

No stars

(PG, 1:30)

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