“The Curse of Bridge Hollow” is essentially an Adam Sandler movie without Adam Sandler—and not one of the good Adam Sandler movies, like “Uncut Gems” or “Hustle,” where he tantalizes us with the fact that he can actually act.
No, this feels more like one of the many broad, lifeless comedies he’s made for Netflix (and it just happens to be streaming on Netflix, what do you know?). “The Curse of Bridge Hollow” could exist in the same cinematic universe as “Hubie Halloween,” set as it is within an idyllic New England town where a variety of supernatural hijinks shatters the sense of security. It’s as if Rob Riggle and Lauren Lapkus have just wandered over from another set to play their usual one-note supporting characters. It’s all very familiar, and dispiritingly so.
Priah Ferguson can only do so much here as 14-year-old Sydney, who’s moved from Brooklyn to historic Bridge Hollow with her parents (Marlon Wayans and Kelly Rowland) just as October 31 is approaching on the calendar. Ferguson has been a no-nonsense scene-stealer over the past couple seasons of “Stranger Things” as Lucas’ little sister, Erica. Here, her undaunted delivery is similar as she tries to convince her father that strange things are indeed afoot, a notion he rejects because he’s a high school science teacher who only believes in science. Wayans says the word “science” so many times, it could be a drinking game, except you’d be passed out by the end of the first act. Then again, that might not be such a bad thing.
The film from director Jeff Wadlow (“Truth or Dare,” “Fantasy Island”), from a script by Todd Berger and Robert Rugan, doesn’t offer much of a coherent, engaging story; rather, it consists of a series of exposition dumps alternating with shrieky set pieces. Characters stand around explaining things to each other, such as: why the family moved here in the middle of the school year, and who exactly is Stingy Jack, the inspiration for the annual Halloween festival. Lapkus, doing a ridiculously thick New England accent as the town’s mayor (or rather, mayah), even has the legend of Stingy Jack stitched onto her sweater (or sweatah).
This is the kind of place where everyone goes all out on their Halloween decorations, Riggle explains to Wayans’ character as the family’s annoyingly friendly next-door neighbor. (He’s wearing a Tom Brady jersey when we first meet him, in case you had any lingering doubts as to where the movie takes place.) Sydney’s quirky new high school friends further fill in the town’s history while they’re all standing around awkwardly at a cemetery. Rowland, meanwhile, gets exactly one topic to stand around and talk about: her love of making vegan, gluten-free baked goods, a running bit that’s never funny and doesn’t even have a satisfying payoff.
And so when Sydney goes snooping around her historic house soon after moving in, trying to prove it’s haunted, she inadvertently unleashes an ancient spirit that’s been locked up in her attic. (The previous owner conveniently left a bunch of scrapbooks and creepy artifacts up there.) In no time, an evil, red glow spreads throughout the Bridge Hollow, possessing the zombies and witches and spiders and clowns that have been peacefully populating the residents’ front yards all month. If this rings a bell, yes, Halloween decorations coming to life and wreaking havoc is indeed the plot of “Goosebumps 2: Haunted Halloween.”
From here, it’s a lot of running and screaming, with the overbearing horror score working overtime. There are plenty of perfunctory jump scares as well as some especially cheesy visual effects. But there is exactly one inspired sight gag and one funny line of dialogue, so you have those to look forward to, should you land on “The Curse of Bridge Hollow” while absent-mindedly scrolling for timely holiday fare. And there’s a series of extremely obvious needle drops to buoy you along, from the Rockwell earworm “Somebody’s Watching Me” to the Whodini hip-hop classic “Freaks Come Out at Night.” By the time AC/DC’s “Highway to Hell” came on, my 13-year-old son exclaimed: “Oh, that’s where the budget went—the music!” That, and copious amounts of candy.