Scooby-Doo Movie Review

Zoiks! Like, man, some ghoulish fiend is turning party-hearty spring breakers into straight-laced zombies on the amusement park resort atoll Spooky Island! And for once you'll never guess (well at least not right away) who will be unmasked as the villain in the gleefully goofball live-action version of "Scooby-Doo."

Self-spoofing yet devoted to its inspiration, this campy comedy ex-cartoon escapade may be edited with a fire axe and aimed mainly at kids, but screenwriter James Gunn (a veteran of underground spoof studio Troma Films) and director Raja Gosnell ("Big Momma's House") know who the hardcore "Scooby" fans are. They're grown-ups who have fond memories of the Saturday morning cartoon about an oddball foursome of post-teen detectives and their bark-talking dog, but who have since come to realize how stupid it was.

Liberally sprinkled with humor that only adults will get -- like the winking implications that cowardly hippie Shaggy (played to squeaky-voiced perfection by Matthew Lillard) is a major stoner -- the movie assumes a working knowledge of "Scooby-Doo" and is very smart about being deliberately stupid. It makes sport of the TV show's repetitive plots ("I'd have gotten away with it too, if it weren't for you meddling kids!"). It pokes fun at the characters' personalities (perpetual damsel-in-distress Daphne, played with ditzy aplomb by Sarah Michelle Gellar, has become a black belt). And it's clever enough to know what parts of its source material worked and what didn't.

Scrappy-Doo, that annoyingly hyperactive puppy from the series waning days, even makes an appearance -- just long enough to get his comeuppance. "That little egomaniac ruined everything," gripes brainy, four-eyed Velma (Linda Cardellini from TV's "Freaks and Geeks"), the nerd who always wears her orange turtleneck sweater -- even on a tropical island. If capping on Scrappy doesn't prove the writer a genuine fan of the show, nothing will.

The story kicks into gear after an opening episode in which the Mystery, Inc. gang breaks up in a huff after half-witted preppie throwback Fred (Freddie Prinze Jr. in a white sweater, a neckerchief and a bad bleach job) takes sole credit in the press for solving one too many cases.

Two years later they're reunited by the eccentric owner of Spooky Island (played by looney Rowan Atkinson from "Rat Race" and "Mr. Bean") and must learn to work together again to figure out why his college-age vacationers are going home zombie-fied. At the same time, there seems to be love in the air for Shaggy, who meets an adorable hippie girl (played by Australian teen idol Isla Fisher), and for Velma. (Fans who have had their gay-dar tuned in on Velma for years may be disappointed to see she falls for a guy). Meanwhile, Fred is absorbed in reading his own autobiography and Daphne is determined to solve the mystery by herself to prove she's not there just for ghosts to kidnap.

Although "Scooby-Doo" is composed of strung-together set pieces with sloppy continuity gaffes (there was clearly a lot left on the cutting room floor), the lowbrow laughs are plentiful (there's an elusive art to making a truly funny flatulence scene and Gosnell knows the secret) and the dialogue is delightfully daffy.

After being inevitably captured in the island's creepy castle, Scooby (created through cheap but amusing and adequately life-like CGI animation) complains about the taste while chewing through his restraints.

"What do you care?" says Shaggy. "You drink out of the toilet."

"Ro do rou!" says Scooby-Doo.

A plan of needless complexity (of course!) is eventually concocted to capture the island's ghouls, involving a cave, air vents and a disco ball. Shaggy and Scooby try to run away from cackling phantoms with Shaggy's head stuck a barrel so he can't see (of course!). And eventually the day is saved (of course!).

"Scooby-Doo" is a movie that could have gone very, very wrong if the filmmakers weren't such fans of the cartoon. But it turned out much better than I expected. The only significant weak link is Freddie Prinze Jr., who was a bad choice to play Fred, especially since this character takes the most ribbing as a brain-dead prettyboy. The role hits too close to home, I think, since Prinze is such a bad actor he couldn't stand still and say nothing convincingly.


Scooby-Doo Rating

" OK "

Rating: PG, Opened: Friday, June 14, 2002


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