If you had told me, before this release, that someone could take the collected writings of RL Stine, mash them up and spit them onto the screen in an entertaining and surprising way, I’d have laughed at you. Stine’s stories got millions of folks to read and they are entertaining, but they’re little confections, not big-screen fare. Put them all together and you’d end up with a deadly treacle, yes? Well, apparently not.

What writer Lemke (Jack the Giant Slayer) was able to create from Alexander and Karaszewski’s concept of Stine’s material was impressive. Even more so because he managed to do it in a family-friendly way, very much in sync with the originals. And while I do give most of the credit for the success of this film to the script, Letterman’s (Monsters vs Aliens) direction certainly played a large role by keeping it all on tone.

Jack Black (Bernie), as Stine, was amusing, but his performance was probably the weakest (even if you include the amusing monsters he voices). His characterizations were broad rather than grounded, which was at odds with the rest of the cast, with the exception of Ryan Lee’s (Trophy Wife) sidekick character. And I didn’t find Lee’s work all that compelling either.

The rest of the cast actually balances the absurdity with the reality rather well. Amy Ryan (Bridge of Spies), Dylan Minnette (Prisoners), and Odeya Rush (Odd Life of Timothy Green) all have wonderfully believable interactions with one another and with others. If they didn’t, the film would have degenerated quickly. Minnette and Rush, in particular, really keep things things on track in the face of all the craziness.

This certainly isn’t the best film since sliced bread, but it is surprisingly fun and it is relatively age-appropriate for younger viewers (say 8 and above) without boring the adults.

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