Jack Black opted out of the Goosebumps sequel in order to make The House with a Clock in Its Walls, which is basically a Goosebumps movie but based on a different set of YA novels. Kids’ movies are a good place for the cartoonish, rubbery actor, doubly so if he’s not the main character (a little Jack Black goes a long way in my experience), and that’s the case here, where he plays Uncle Jonathan, a mildly competent warlock whose peculiar orphaned 10-year-old nephew, Lewis (Owen Vacarro), comes to live with him in his Gothic, enchanted house in 1955. The house and its furnishings are alive, and there’s a ticking sound coming from the walls because of a curse placed by its former owner, malevolent warlock Isaac Izard (Kyle MacLachlan). Izard is currently dead, but don’t expect that to stop him from trying to destroy the world.
Directed by horror auteur Eli Roth (his first PG movie), THWACIIW also delivers the always-welcome Cate Blanchett as Florence, the skilled witch next door who bickers playfully with Jonathan and helps Lewis discover his own powers. Blanchett and Black are fun together, though seeing their acting skills side-by-side is like watching Serena Williams play tennis against a pile of laundry, and Vacarro (from the Daddy’s Home movies) makes a sweet li’l dork. Roth provides plenty of goosebumpy, junior-level Halloween-type scares — jack-o-lanterns that come to life, a baby with Jack Black’s head (I don’t remember why), that sort of thing — most of which should be entertaining and not too traumatizing for kids 8 and up (or so; I don’t know your kids). For adults, it’s nothing special, but it’s tastefully macabre in that cozy October way and only has a few poop jokes.