Rated PG, 90 min. Directed by Raja Gosnell. Starring Matthew Lillard, Freddie Prinze Jr., Sarah Michelle Gellar, Linda Cardellini, Rowan Atkinson.
Thirty-three years after the animated Scooby gang made its network television premiere, they've finally done what seemingly every other TV show with a modicum of cultural significance, or at least kitsch appeal, has done, and that's amble on over to the big screen. The film adaptation of Mystery Inc.'s rag-tag crew -- geeky Velma (Cardellini), pretty boy Fred (Prinze Jr.), foxy but helpless Daphne (Gellar), bell-bottomed Shaggy (Lillard), and the much-loved, now computer-generated pup named Scoob (“ruh-roh!”) -- is faithful to the series, which will come as no great comfort to those who found the cartoon tedious. That said, there is a decent amount of spin put on the characters that adult viewers might enjoy: Velma's got self-esteem issues stemming from her desire to be less nerd, more nymph; Fred's a preening megalomaniac; Daphne's constant need to be rescued is roundly mocked; and Shaggy ... well ... let's just say his love interest happens to be named Mary Jane. This time around, the renowned crime-fighters are trying to solve the mystery of Spooky Island, a beach resort that could have been airlifted right out of MTV Spring Break (Sugar Ray included, in what looks to be a bid to replace Smashmouth in its unofficial capacity as teen-movie-cameo-sluts). All the Spring Break-ers are leaving the island like zombies -- well-behaved ones, at that -- a state that rather displeases Spooky Island owner Emile Mondavarious (Atkinson), knowing his business will go kaput if his once-randy clientele would now rather stay at home watching Seventh Heaven. Never fear, the Scooby gang's here ... unless, that is, Scooby's off sniffing out some Scooby snacks, thus giving Shaggy the opportunity to howl out his signature “Scooby Doo, where are you?” That right there is the clincher: Scooby-Doo strives to straddle two demographics -- kids and one-time kids now nostalgic -- and the film's fidelity to the cartoon series should satisfy both. Kids will see Scooby-Doo as the logical, totally agreeable extension of the cartoon, and there's plenty here for adults, too, though the film does inch toward tiresome. Director Raja Gosnell and screenwriter James Gunn have stripped the subtlety from the series, and its tongue-in-cheek spirit is now as obvious as Scooby's perpetually panting licker. Didn't we already snicker at all this in college? (“Scooby snacks. Huh-huh.”) The cast does an adequate job mimicking their cartoon creations, which means they have no more than two dimensions to work with. But there are two exceptions, the ones that matter most: Shaggy and Scooby. Lillard (Scream, She's All That) has blessedly lost that vicious bent he brings to roles; he not only nails Shaggy's goofy good humor, but also injects a genuine sincerity into the part. He interacts mainly with Scooby, and they're a blast to watch -- loose-limbed physical comedians that match each other beat for beat, a testament to both Lillard and Scooby's team of creators. I'm not sure what kind of recommendation that is, when the best thing here is the chemistry between a boy and his computer-generated companion, but -- zoinks! -- Scooby's just so dang cute, what's the point in grousing?
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