As I sat about to watch “Goosebumps 2: Haunted Halloween,” I thought about all the questions I had after 2015’s “Goosebumps.” Questions like: What happened in the first “Goosebumps” movie? Did I even watch it? Why can’t I remember it?
Turns out, I did see it, and kind of liked it — and I wish I had those fond memories to console me through the force-fed hijinks and special-effects overload of this charmless sequel.
You’ll recall, as I barely did, that the first movie involved some high-school kids who encounter the reclusive writer R.L. Stine (Jack Black), creator of the “Goosebumps” book series. He has the original manuscripts all locked away, because when they’re opened, the monsters within leap off the page and into the real world.
In the sequel, there’s a new town, new kids and a new scary old house. Middle-school buddies Sonny (Jeremy Ray Taylor, from “It”) and Sam (Caleel Harris) rummage around the scary old house, and happen upon a treasure chest with a mysterious book inside. Before they can investigate, the book is stolen by bullies — but not before the evil ventriloquist dummy Slappy is released to wreak havoc.
It’s up to Sonny’s college-bound sister Sarah — played by Madison Iseman, who, ironically enough, turned into Jack Black in the “Jumanji” reboot — to help Sonny and Sam keep Slappy in line. That’s not so easy when they figure out that Slappy, following the plot of R.L. Stine’s first book, has a plan to make Halloween come alive, and that part of the plan involves Sarah and Sonny’s mom (Wendi McLendon-Covey, from “The Goldbergs”).
Director Ari Sandel (“The Duff”) can’t do much with Rob Lieber’s undernourished script, even when he adds a couple of comedy ringers in the form of Ken Jeong as a decoration-obsessed neighbor and Chris Parnell as an awkward pharmacy clerk. All the humor and charm that anyone tries to muster gets sucked into the whirlwind of animated monsters thrown at the screen.
Lastly, “Goosebumps 2” deploys a strategic cameo — you may have seen it in the ads — for what could have been a clever finishing gag. Unfortunately, the filmmakers undercut the set-up, so the joke falls flat. It’s unlikely the gag would have redeemed this sequel, but it would have helped.
‘Goosebumps 2: Haunted Halloween’
Opens Friday, Oct. 12, in theaters everywhere. Rated PG for scary creature action and images, some thematic elements, rude humor and language. Running time: 90 minutes.