Let me put this in context for you. Libraries are woefully underfunded. Too many of the elderly are forced to choose between their prescription drugs and their rent. Teachers in the public school system are barely paid a subsistence wage. But somehow in a world turned upside down, there were tens of millions of dollars to be spent on a souped-up movie version of that Saturday morning cartoon staple, SCOOBY DOO. Never a concept to tax the minds of its young audience, the film, too will have its greatest appeal for those whose age is in the one digit range or whose IQ is in the lower two digit range.
The story begins as the mystery-busting gang, Fred, Daphne, Velma, Shaggy and Scooby, are finishing up the case of the Luna Ghost. Daphne (Sarah Michelle Geller) has, as usual, been captured the bad guy. Fred (Freddie Prinze, Jr.), who is dumb as a post but very good looking, is flailing, Velma (Linda Cardellini), the smart one, and you know this because she wears glasses and has short hair, is coming up with a plan, and Shaggy (Matthew Lillard) and Scooby Doo (a computer generation), are wreaking their own special brand of havoc. Under the same principle of an infinite number of monkeys on an infinite number of typewriters being able to randomly produce the collected works of Shakespeare, everything turns out right for the good guys. Well, almost. The underlying resentments each member of the gang feel for one another finally come to the fore when Fred, as usual takes credit for the happy ending, leaving Velma, as usual, fuming. Not as usual, though, this time Velma quits. And then Daphne does, not so much because she always gets captured by the bad guys, but because shes tired of being teased about it. Then Fred quits because everyone else does, leaving Shaggy and Scooby, the two dimmest bulbs in this particular chandelier, custody of the gangs van, the Mystery Machine, and no one else to hang out with. Alas for us, the film doesnt end here.
We catch up with Shaggy and Scooby two years later, living in the van and doing what the like best, eating odd awe-inspiring amounts of food topped with things like chocolate and hot sauce. And that is as about as sophisticated as the humor gets.
But I digress.
A mysterious stranger offers them a job solving a mystery on SpookyIsland, the number one Spring Break destination in the world. Money doesnt tempt them, but the all-you-can-eat clause does and before you can say bon appetite, theyre at the airport running into the entire gang, each of whom has been enlisted to solve the mystery. It seems that the wild college kids who flock there have become serious, well-behaved Stepford teens who pack a mean ninja kick when annoyed.
From here our would-be intrepid mystery busters trip their way through dungeons and dragons-like sets and special effects that range from ho-hum to a rather nice one involving ectoplasm and switched identities. Screenwriters Craig Titley and James Gunn manage to take even that and, not knowing when to quit, run it into the ground several minutes after it has ceased to be funny. And this is hardly a surprise, considering that what passes for wit in this film involves fart jokes and scintillating dialogue about drinking from toilets. Youd cling to something genuinely funny for as long as you could, too. For some reason, even though the budget was so much bigger than it was for the cartoon series, the powers that be seems to have decided that the money should be spent on anything and everything >except< a script and if they paid more than a five bucks for this script, they were taken.
But I digress, yet again.
The plot will comfort children who need consistency in their lives and for whom any major deviation from the standard plot would necessitate a cup of warm cocoa and a nap to recover. The gang searches for clues, the gang stumbles around a dark and scary castle, infiltrate strange cultic rituals and then save the day after enduring scrapes with evil wrestlers and a buffet where the goodies bite you instead of the other way around. The only change from the boilerplate script is Daphne somehow transforming herself into a kung-fu master during her two-year hiatus, yet she still managing to be so bumbling for most of the film that any kudos for having her become a strong female capable of taking care of herself must be left unbestowed.
Half-hearted kudos, though, to costume designer Lisa Evans for creating outfits that look exactly like their low-budget animation counterparts. The cartoon colors are translated intact, they move like they were sketchily animated, and the ladies skirts stay firmly in place even when said ladies are hanging upside down. Its fascinating to contemplate them, and did give me something to take my mind off the dreck this wardrobe was appearing in.
As for the actors, well, its not like they were given a lot to work with, but theyve managed to take what they were handed and do absolutely nothing with it. Gellar seems to be pinning her thespian hopes to her push-up bra, and while that worked for Julia Roberts in ERIN BROCKOVICH, Julia had Albert Finney as a co-star, Sarah Michelle is working with pixels. Freddie Prinze, Jr., wearing a blond wig that doesnt quite work, does a dead-on impression of a Ken doll that is more than a little unsettling. Linda Cardellini, Lindsey Weir from televisions late, lamented FREAKS AND GEEKS, brings a deliciously crunchy voice and almost Goth attitude to the mix, but theres nothing in the script for her to show them off to any advantage. Matthew Lillard, an actor capable of great depth and nuance (check out SLC PUNK! to see what I mean), is once again wasted in his role as Shaggy, a half-note character in a film full of one-note characters. An overly tanned Rowan Atkinson as the owner of SpookyIsland, is light years away in spirit, timing, and script from his Black Adder days, so much so that one wonders what the heck hes doing here when the syndication of Black Adder is so ubiquitous and sales of Black Adder videos and DVDs are brisk. He cant possibly need the money.
Scooby Doo, of course, is computer generated, with almost real looking fur and prehensile toes that are about as interesting as anything else on screen with the exception of a spiky-haired skull done up as a mirrored disco ball that is integral to the grand finale. And when a prop is what you leave the theater thinking about, you know youve just wasted 87 minutes of your life.