Film Reviews: Wednedday, June 13, 2002
Scooby-Doo
Starring Linda Cardellini, Sarah Michelle Gellar, Matthew Lillard, and Freddie Prinze Jr. Directed by Raja Gosnell. Written by James Gunn. Rated PG.
A D V E R T I S E M E N T
A D V E R T I S E M E N T
Shaggy-Dog Story

Jinkies! Scooby-Doo rolls over and gives up the ghost.

By KRISTIAN LIN

Give Scooby-Doo this much credit: It doesn’t try to be an episode of the cartoon series writ large. It assumes we’re familiar with the animated tv show’s usual story, where the meddling kids are chased around by “nutcases in Halloween costumes,” as they’re called here. The film tries to give us something different by having the gang deal with honest-to-goodness supernatural spooks. That’s worth saluting. Unfortunately, it doesn’t make the movie very good.

The movie starts with the splintering of the Scooby-Doo gang, known for business purposes as Mystery, Inc. Fred (Freddie Prinze Jr.), the group’s ascot-wearing leader, starts taking too much credit for their success. Asked what the firm’s secret is, he says, “Teamwork. I do lots of teamwork.” His swelled head causes brainy Velma (Linda Cardellini) and brainless Daphne (Sarah Michelle Gellar) to go their separate ways, leaving cowardly Shaggy (Matthew Lillard) and his faithful yet equally cowardly dog Scooby-Doo to fend for themselves. Two years after their breakup, they reunite when they’re all separately invited to the theme park of Spooky Island by the place’s dotty English owner (Rowan Atkinson), who’s concerned that something’s turning the college kids visiting his resort into mindless zombies.

The script by James Gunn (Tromeo & Juliet) has a single dementedly inspired bit: Scrappy-Doo is revealed to be a sociopath who’s acting out a massive inferiority complex. His two brief appearances are hilarious, and they’re over just before he wears out his welcome. It’s far outnumbered, though, by the comic misfires that litter this film: the spirits of the group’s members inhabiting each other’s bodies, the revelation that the zombies are white kids talking ghetto slang (hard to discern the point of that one), the attempts at making fun of theme parks. Way before Scooby and Shaggy get into a burping-and-farting contest, it’s clear the filmmakers have run out of ideas.

Smoother direction might have made this stuff go down easy, but Raja Gosnell, the hack director of Never Been Kissed and Big Momma’s House, botches his assignment. This movie looks terrible — the colors are muddy, the editing is choppy, the junky set decoration clutters the frame. Worse than all that, the computer-generated Scooby-Doo is an unfunny, inexpressive disaster. You’re always painfully aware that you’re watching actors react to a dummy that’s being moved around the set. A man dressed in a dog suit would have been a tremendous improvement.

The human actors fare only slightly better. Prinze Jr. is, as usual, comic dead weight, and Gellar’s ditzy role wastes her talent for wisecracking. On the plus side, Atkinson isn’t handicapped by having to re-create a character from the tv show, so the British sitcom star helps matters. Lillard makes Shaggy’s beatnik air seem so natural that you forget he’s carefully imitating the cartoon character’s adenoidal voice and shambling walk. It’s quite a piece of work, actually — you just have to watch Cardellini, who seems paralyzed trying to replicate Velma’s mannerisms, to appreciate what he does. He is Shaggy. This movie is crappy.


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