Review: “Goosebumps 2: Haunted Halloween”

2.5 out of 5 stars.

Imagine: you sit down to watch a movie.  It’s the sequel to a movie from a few years ago that you really enjoyed, and for the most part, this sequel boasts the same look and feel.  And yet, something is missing, some spark that makes this movie less enjoyable.

Okay, you probably don’t need to imagine that.  We’ve all been there with sequels, but there’s something about “Goosebumps 2: Haunted Halloween,” the sequel to the 2015 “Goosebumps” film (that’s the enjoyable original) that makes it feel like a rush job that belonged in a television special, or a direct-to-DVD release.

Directed by Ari Sandel, “Goosebumps 2” is set in a different town and centers around a different group of kids from the previous film.  But it still revolves around “Goosebumps” author R.L. Stine’s stories coming to life.  Friends Sonny (Jeremy Ray Taylor) and Sam (Caleel Harris) start a cleanup business and are hired to clear the junk out of an abandoned house.  It’s there that they find and open an old manuscript, summoning and bringing to life Slappy, a ventriloquist dummy and quintessential “Goosebumps” villain (voiced by Mick Wingert).  Slappy wants his own family, but his attempts to befriend the boys, Sonny’s sister Sarah (Madison Iseman) and their mom Kathy (Wendi McLendon-Covey) quickly become sinister, and they must thwart his attempts to take over their town on Halloween night.

Slappy, who, like his name, is more silly than scary

The “Goosebumps” series has been a fixture in most kids’ lives since the early 1990s, first in the form of author R.L. Stine’s book series, then as a popular television show, and finally as a major movie franchise.  Most of the stories are a mixture of campy and creepy, but not too creepy—the series is, after all, geared toward kids.  The same can be said about “Goosebumps 2,” although there’s definitely more camp than creep.  Like its predecessor, it revolves around Stine’s stories coming to life, but while the first film was sort of a greatest hits of “Goosebumps” characters, the sequel revolves almost exclusively around Slappy, with a handful of not-so-menacing critters making appearances on the side.  The CGI effects are more cartoony than realistic, but it is fun to see how they are used at times, like when Slappy brings an aisle of Halloween costumes to life.

The story is formulaic, which isn’t to say that it isn’t completely enjoyable, but it also doesn’t do enough to keep viewers (especially older viewers) consistently entertained, or to be memorable.  It looks and feels like a lesser version of the first film: the effects aren’t as good, the characters aren’t as interesting, and there aren’t any big name celebrities outside of a couple cameos.  Ken Jeong plays a holiday-obsessed neighbor who we see out decorating his lawn every so often and who gets to deliver a one-liner here and there, while Jack Black reprises his role from the first film as Stine, but literally phones it in, appearing only at the very end of the film and serving no purpose.

If you’re looking for some lighter fare to get you in the Halloween spirit, then “Goosebumps 2” might be the movie for you.  If anything, the setting of the story is appropriately seasonal, with every house in the neighborhood appearing to go all out with the Halloween décor.  But at this point you may as well wait to catch it on TV around Halloween next year—that’s really where it belongs anyway.

Runtime: 90 minutes. Rated PG.

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