**1/2 (out of four)
DIRECTED BY Rob Letterman
STARS Jack Black, Dylan Minnette
** (out of four)
DIRECTED BY Joe Wright
STARS Hugh Jackman, Levi Miller
Jack Black in Goosebumps (Photo: Columbia
Two new PG confections may offer gee-whiz thrills for the kids, but only one has any real chance of appealing to the attendant adults.
That would be Goosebumps, which stars Jack Black as R.L. Stine, the author of the incredibly popular series of spooky books for young readers. Much like the character of "Peter Falk" (played by Peter Falk) in Wings of Desire and the character of "John Malkovich" (played by Malkovich) in Being John Malkovich, this "R.L. Stine" is a fictionalized version of the writer, here presented (through Black's amusing portrayal) as a persnickety sort who reveals to a couple of neighborhood kids (Dylan Minnette and Ryan Lee) that the monsters he created in his bestsellers are actually alive and kept safely locked away in the original manuscripts of the books. Of course, said monsters escape from their printed-page prisons, meaning the streets of Madison, Delaware, are soon being invaded by a werewolf, a blob, an invisible boy, a giant praying mantis, and various other creatures of the night. It's a clever premise for a movie, but as we learned from this summer's woeful Pixels, the creativity can't begin and end with the high-concept hook. Luckily, Goosebumps takes its offbeat idea further, and while it could stand to subtract a couple of annoying characters (Lee's whining Champ, Jillian Bell's man-hungry Aunt Lorraine) and add a few more late-inning twists, it's still above-average entertainment for the children and adequate enough for their parents.
Rooney Mara and Levi Miller in Pan (Photo: Warner)
As for Pan, it's the latest film inspired by J.M. Barrie's beloved Peter Pan. With origin stories all the rage these days (Maleficent, Oz the Great and Powerful, etc.), this one introduces Peter (Levi Miller) as an orphan who's kidnapped (along with other boys) and taken to Neverland, where he's expected to toil in the mines under the order of the pirate Blackbeard (Hugh Jackman, enjoying his own antics far more than those of us in the audience). There, Peter meets a young man named Hook, a cocky devil-may-care sort who becomes the boy's unlikely buddy (as Hook, Garrett Hedlund is under the impression he's Harrison Ford playing Han Solo in the original Star Wars). Peter learns he can fly, Blackbeard fears that the lad is the one prophesied to lead the insurgence against him, and Hook falls for a local known as Tiger Lily (Rooney Mara). It's all broadly played and only intermittently engaging, and there's little here to deepen our understanding of all these familiar characters. Wendy is nowhere to be found — presumably, she was going to be introduced in a sequel that may not happen, given the dismal grosses so far — and the fairies (including Tinkerbell) are merely twinkly special effects who speak with the voices of Alvin and his infernal chipmunks. But hey, it could be worse. It could be Spielberg's Hook.