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Scooby Doo (June 17/02)

There seems to be a rule in Hollywood that if you're going to remake a famous children's property - be it an old film or TV show - you've got to clutter up the storyline with needless events and keep the character development to a minimum. Scooby Doo, based on the hugely popular cartoon show, is the latest kiddie flick that falls prey to the above.

But it doesn't seem that way, initially. The film opens with the Mystery Inc. gang - that being Fred, Velma, Daphne, Shaggy and of course Scooby Doo - in the midst of solving their latest case. After ripping off the mask of the disgruntled old janitor who was behind the whole plot, the gang promptly breaks up due primarily to jealousy among the crew. If the rest of the movie had been more like that sequence and less like the mess it eventually becomes, Scooby Doo just might have appealed to a wider audience than slow 12-year-olds. But no, after a brief "character developing" stretch (the filmmakers' concept of character development here consists of telling us that Shaggy enjoys eggplant and chocolate sauce sandwiches), the movie kicks into high gear with a ridiculously complicated storyline. The gang finds themselves unwittingly reunited after each receives an invitation to visit a new ghost and ghouls themed island retreat. But upon arriving and meeting the owner of the island (Rowan Atkinson, sporting a ridiculous looking toupee that eerily resembles William Shatner's look circa TJ Hooker), they soon learn that strange things are afoot. Which, of course, leads into one nutty misadventure after the next as the group uncovers various nefarious goings on.

To be honest, my knowledge of the show is somewhat lacking. I'm sure I watched it as a kid, but for the life of me, I can't remember a single thing about it. So, walking into the movie fresh, the only thing I hoped for was a film geared towards children with occasional flashes of grown-up intelligence. Alas, director Raja Gosnell (Home Alone 3) and the multitude of screenwriters have instead given us an adventure caper aimed at the pre-teen set. So, instead of a fun romp in the vein of the original series, we wind up with an overloaded and visually distracting fun house designed to elicit feelings of nausea among moviegoers. Well, okay, it's not that bad; the movie is essentially entertaining (if completely mindless) but still.

Aside from the unnecessarily over-the-top direction and absurdly busy script, the movie actually has a few good things going for it. The acting, for one. Matthew Lillard makes for a surprisingly agreeable Shaggy, perfectly aping his distinctive voice (originally provided by Casey Kasem!) and unique body language. As for the remaining cast members, only Linda Cardellini makes any sort of an impact. She takes the character of Velma (the smart one, as she calls herself), and makes her the most human out of the bunch. Though she does retain a lot of the same mannerisms as her cartoon inspiration (such as the ever-present arms folded behind her back), Cardellini doesn't find herself confined by the limitations of the original character. Unlike a couple of her co-stars, she actually creates a persona we can believe could exist in the real world. Rounding out the Mystery Inc gang are two of the blandest actors working, Sarah Michelle Gellar and Freddie Prinze Jr. To be fair, I've never seen an episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, so I've no idea if Gellar is capable of more than this. But Prinze delivers exactly the sort of performance we've come to expect from him. In all honesty, though, both Prinze and Gellar are trapped in rigid characters based mostly on cliches (Fred is a bland beauty and Daphne is a brainless, uh, beauty), so their performances accurately reflect the cartoon originals.

In its first weekend, Scooby Doo broke the record for a June opening - far exceeding it's only competition for the weekend, the superior Bourne Identity and Windtalkers. Is this really the sort of entertainment America wants? If it is, we're in trouble.

out of

© David Nusair