`Scooby' monsters best in show

Cast's enthusiasm, ghosts save sequel


March 26, 2004|By Chris Kaltenbach | Chris Kaltenbach,SUN MOVIE CRITIC



The Scooby-Doo films present their own built-in conundrum: As the big-screen incarnations of a cartoon TV series whose pleasures were, at best, slight, how do you judge them? If they faithfully replicate their inspirational source, they're largely dull, unimaginative and tame to a fault, the kids-TV equivalent of unflavored gelatin.

Yet, is it fair to expect them to be anything more?

Scooby-Doo 2: Monsters Unleashed is better than would be expected, thanks largely to an enthusiastic cast, a director (Raja Gosnell, returning from the first film) who understands his audience and a slew of monstrous adversaries that are scary enough for the little kids yet witty enough to elicit a chuckle from adults.

Still, there's the nagging question: Is this the best they can do?

With this particular franchise, probably so. The film's 91 minutes pass effortlessly enough (save for some dime-store self-realization that each character has to undergo, through sequences that grind the film to a halt each time), the film's inventiveness catches adult viewers pleasantly off-guard more than once, and the film understands something the series frequently didn't - that the gang is a pretty dull bunch of stiffs and it's the monsters they run up against that provide all the fun.

The film opens with our band of heroes, known collectively as Mystery Inc., reunited after the travails of 2002's Scooby-Doo, basking in the warmth of a loving Coolsville, whose citizens have gone ga-ga once again over our beloved ghost hunters. There's fearless (and bland) leader Fred (Freddie Prinze Jr.), the lovely and stylish Daphne (Sarah Michelle Gellar), brainy Velma (Linda Cardellini), clueless (and probably stoned) Shaggy (Matthew Lillard) and, of course, that Great Dane with the speech impediment, Scooby-Doo (who exists thanks to a bunch of computer wizardry).

Things turn less cheery when a gala museum opening is crashed by an angry Pterodactyl Ghost, one of the many ghosts, goblins and other horrid creatures Mystery Inc. has vanquished over the years. Soon, all manner of former foes are showing up to make everyone's life miserable: Captain Cutler, The Creeper, The 10,000 Volt Ghost. Easy as that, Coolsville starts turning on our fearless five, wondering why they can't do something about all these baddies who've come back to town.

What to do, indeed? Someone, the gang realizes, must be behind this, but who? Suspects abound, including a snotty newscaster (Alicia Silverstone, whose once-promising career is just about flattened), an ex-con and former criminal mastermind, Old Man Wickles (Peter Boyle, doing one for the grandkids), even the head of the museum, Patrick (Seth Green, enjoying an onscreen reunion with Buffy the Vampire Slayer co-star Gellar).

Scooby-Doo 2 is best when the monsters are onscreen; these ghouls are a real hoot (especially a pair of skeletons who seem to be channeling the Keystone Cops), and they give the film an energy and inventiveness it otherwise sorely lacks. Lillard remains an amazingly accurate reflection of the animated Shaggy, with the pluses and minuses that entails (admit it; even when you were 10, a little Shaggy went a long way). Gellar, too, gives the film her all, and is rewarded with the chance to show off all the kung fu moves she perfected on Buffy.

So, yeah, there's enough here to keep the movie light and avoid the curse of interminableness. Will there be enough to warrant a third Scooby-Doo film? Must we find out?

Scooby-Doo: Monsters Unleashed

Starring Sarah Michelle Gellar, Freddie Prinze Jr., Matthew Lillard, Linda Cardellini

Directed by Raja Gosnell

Released by Warner Bros.

Rated PG (some scary action, rude humor and language)

Time 91 minutes

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