“Goosebumps 2: Haunted Halloween” is a movie out of the “Just throw enough visual bric-a-brac at them!” school of proudly arrested kiddie entertainment. It’s like “Night at the Museum” remade as an overly caffeinated pop-up spook show. The story, what there is of it, is innocuous — it hinges on a teenage brother and sister, Internet-and-video-game geek Sonny (Jeremy Ray Taylor) and feisty romantic Sarah (Madison Iseman), each dealing with a problem (he’s fending off a bully out of the Nickelodeon Junior version of “Stand by Me”; she sneaks into a nightclub and spies her boyfriend kissing another girl).
But that’s all just a way of killing time before Sonny and his buddy, Sam (Caleel Harris), meet Slappy, the mischievous talking ventriloquist dummy from the first “Goosebumps.” That movie, a jumbled riff on several of R.L. Stine’s children’s horror novels (there are literally hundreds of them, which is one reason why it’s the second-best-selling book series in history), came out three years ago and grossed $80 million. So who’s going to mess with a formula that seems to work more than not?
Slappy, with his dancing eyebrows and game-show-host grin, bears an amusing resemblance to Carson Daly and talks like a smart-aleck mad scientist. (He’s voiced, uncredited, by Jack Black, whose vocal performance has more personality than anything in the film, including Black’s performance as R.L. Stine.) Slappy is the movie’s designated agent of chaos, and there are times he makes “Goosebumps 2” play like the Disney version of a Chucky movie. But this is PG fluff. Slappy’s only desire is to be part of the family, and his one true purpose is to bring all the costume-shop ghoulie kitsch to life.
“Goosebumps 2” is essentially a live-action film, but its principal production house is Sony Pictures Animation, because the movie is all about the rubber bats and the rubber rats, the green-lantern-headed witches and the rotting-bandage mummies, the doggie skeleton taking a pee, the familiar floppy Halloween masks that sprout bodies and start to walk, the humongous spider lawn ornament made entirely out of black and purple balloons that becomes the film’s equivalent of the “Ghostbusters” Stay Puft giant. The way a movie like “Goosebumps 2” works, even a weary adult will be grateful, by the time it finally kicks in, for all the brainless whirling distraction. I almost wrote fun, but that would be pushing it. To achieve that F-word, the film would have to ground its amusing effects in a story that was less skittery yet leaden.
Jack Black, who starred as R.L. Stine in the first “Goosebumps,” makes a smaller appearance here, but all the nattering on in the film about Stine and his books plays like a weirdly narcissistic and convoluted form of postmodern brand placement. In the movie, Stine complains that he was never able to come up with an adequate ending for “Haunted Halloween.” It’s up to the kids to write the ending, but despite their best efforts “Goosebumps 2” isn’t a movie, exactly — it’s a piñata of effects posing as a movie. By the end, there’s nothing to do but sweep up the pieces.