R.L Stine's Mostly Ghostly
Studio: Universal Studios Family Productions
US Rating: PG
Film Length: 98 Mins
Aspect Ratio: 1:78.1 + 1.33:1
Audio: English Dolby Digital 5.1
Subtitles: Optional English SDH, French and Spanish
The Film - out of
“And now, ladies and gentlemen, to kick off tonight's entertainment I am pleased to present Max the magnificent and his equally magnificent assistant Traci Walker.”
R.L. Stine is a prolific author of scary tales for children. Perhaps most famous for his ‘GooseBumps’ series, he has penned over three hundred books filled with plenty of scary, creepy and frightening things that go bump in the night and a slew of children smart enough to overcome them. His success has continued on television and now with a series of direct to DVD movies designed to scare and entertain children.
Young Max is a little awkward. He is very much into his magic act, hates sports and becomes tongue tied when in the presence of his crush at school. One day he discovers a magical incantation on a piece of paper that his dog dug up in the yard. Practicing his magic act in his bedroom and trying out his new magic chant, he attracts unwelcome attention from a ghastly ghost figure called Phears – The Animal traveler. Max lives with his loving parents and an antagonizing brother who his father favors for his equal love of sport and none of them are aware of the evil tunnel that exists just behind the wall in their basement where Phears and his ghosts await release on Halloween
While Max dedicates his free time to perfecting his magic act, which he will be presenting during the festivities on Halloween night, two young kids appear near his house and discover that they are ghosts. These two apparitions, a brother and sister called Nicky and Tara, have no idea where their parents are and head back to their home. Unfortunately, they discover that a strange family has moved into their house. And that family is Max’s. While no-one else can see them, Max can and they soon team up to find out what happened to their parents, fight the evil Phears and help Max perform his magic show, make progress with his crush and save him from the school bully.
Unlike last years The Haunting Hour DVD release, Mostly Ghoslty is assembled into an uneven, tepid and largely dull hour and a half, offering none of the sure-footed storytelling or likeable characters. Key among the films drawbacks is a highly questionable level of talent in the principle players. Max is a likeable idea of a character, but the performance by Sterling Beaumon is borderline aggravating at times. The occasional slapstick action is mismanaged and the comedic timing is frequently out of sync. The ghostly kids in this outing are played by Luke Benward (Nicky) and Madison Pettis (Tara). Energetic young actors that appear to be trying hard, but something is missing. Perhaps it’s the script they are working with or the direction they were given, but there is a lack of focus from them and those around them that dilute the fun. Max’s parents do okay with their parts, portraying an appropriately oblivious and goofy Mom and Dad. And Ali Lohan has a small and very throwaway part as Max’s crush, Traci. The film could very well have done without the distraction of the stock plot piece that the Traci character occupies. All is not lost, however, as there is one performance that is genuinely entertaining and that comes from Brian Stepanek as Phears – The Animal Traveler. Stepanek (The Suite Life of Zack and Cody) doesn’t take the evil doer role too seriously, but is able to be imposing enough when needed. Most of the film’s working comedy comes from this ghoulish figure – which is one of the film’s few bright spots.
Written by Jana Godshall, Pat Croft and Richard Correll, and directed by Correll, Mostly Ghostly suffers from a slow beginning, muddled plotting and disappointing distraction with blandness. The introduction of characters is a little haphazard also, with the two young ghosts being dropped into the story with no set up. Films like this, for kids, can rarely afford that lack of linear storytelling and the disservice here hampers the unfolding of the film that already has a little too much plot going on. The kid-friendly visual effects are of television quality (which is a complement, these days) and the make-up effects are solid. If more time and attention had focused on the ghoulish figures living in the tunnel behind the wall in Max’s basement, there may have been more to recommend from this experience.
Admittedly, this film will appeal to the ten years old and under crowd, and in many ways skews much younger than that, but it fails to include the ingredient that would bridge to an older demographic or provide entertainment value for parents watching with their sub-ten year old kids. A shame since there is such a great opportunity to provide good scares, with kids being the heroes these days.
Universal Studios Family Productions brings us this kid’s scary flick to DVD in anamorphic widescreen 1.78:1 along with a full screen version option.
As with last years The Haunting Hour, the image meets expectations from a direct to DVD release. The blacks are deep here, rich in fact, but the overall color palette is muted, drained and most likely not by design. There are good details in the image, sharp at times in an impressive way. But there is also noise at times, particularly in the blue walls of the bathroom in Max’s house. Overall, this presentation is about average.
This film comes with an English Dolby Digital 5.1 surround sound audio track. Almost all of the activity comes from the front channels, with dialogue focused in the center channel coming across nice and clear. The bass is active only on rare occasion and the sub-woofer is almost entirely left at the door begging for candy, but no-one is answering.
The music score, reminiscent of Mark Snow’s X-Files ambient sound effects suits the film, but doesn’t get much chance to shine here.
No extras - No Stars
I will admit, the story didn’t hold much promise for me, but I am always open to being surprised. Unfortunately, the lackluster pacing, mediocre performances and far too slow start to this film impeded any potential enjoyment. Kids under ten will find it a reasonable distraction, but there is little beyond that to be positive about. A shame.