It's lazy criticism, but sometimes it really is that hard to figure out who in the hell they thought a movie was made for. Why, in 2015, a Goosebumps movie? Is it for nostalgic 20-but-closing-on-30somethings? The 10 and 12-year-olds of today? Some unsustainable hybrid of the both of them?

But even that's missing the forest for the trees: whatever audience is likely to think that a film adapting R.L. Stine's occasionally-revived mid-'90s series of light horror for children is the most terrific idea that ever came down the pike, surely nobody wanted that film to take the form of a romantic comedy about a gawky teen boy pining after a girl. Whose father, in an astonishing twist worthy of light horror for children, is none other than R.L. Stine! And it turns out that his books aren't just a profitable self-sustaining franchise, they're actually the way that he traps the demons of his imagination in leatherbound manuscripts, safe from doing the world harm. And I will confess that it was an unexpected twist that the story (credited to Scott Alexander & Larry Karaszewski, a pair of biopic specialists, which kind of makes perfect sense) would draw down in any capacity from Wes Craven's New Nightmare.

Stine is played by an especially campy Jack Black, who resembles the author not at all, but it's hard to say that it matters - apologies to the real-life Stine, but I don't suppose that any of us have a truly insistent vision of what he looks or acts like. And Black at least injects the role with a delirious note of cartoonish unpredictability that works to its extreme benefit - when he's around, the whole thing becomes weirder. Not necessarily funnier (it's a pretty ropey comedy, even worse in that genre than in horror, where it's family-friendly tone necessarily sucks away its potential for real terror or even suspense), but at least more kinetic and brittle. I didn't know till I watched it that I wanted to know what Jack Black playing heterosexual Truman Capote in a kids' movie might look like, and I'm glad to have had the experience.

The problem is - and what a big problem, too - Black is barely present for the film's first half, during which time we have nobody to keep us company but Zach (Dylan Minnette), the new next-door neighbor to Stine and his pretty daughter Hannah (Odeya Rush), who emerges as a co-protagonist mostly by accident. And also Zach's comic relief friend Champ (Ryan Lee). Amy Ryan shows up just long enough for us to feel very angry that these are the roles offered to her. In Zach, we find a faultlessly dull teenybopper protagonist, performed without distinction - but then, what could Minnette have possibly done with the role? It's generic tween tosh, devoid of anything interesting or insightful, and the chintzy visual effects of the monsters that eventually intersect with the movie don't alter the impression that this is one notch above direct-to-video.