USA 2002 : Raja Gosnell : 86 mins
ONE-LINE REVIEW: Breezy big-screen version of 70s favourite tries too hard to please all possible audiences between 5 and 35, but generates plenty of undemanding laughs along the way.
One reason why there’s never been a Scooby-Doo movie before now is the massive technical headache involved in bringing the main character to cinematic life. Because, in the history of Hollywood, there’s never been an actor whose palms naturally face backwards, the chief identifying physical characteristic of Shaggy, the Casey Kasem-voiced, perpetually green t-shirted, scaredy-cat, presumably bulimic (constant eating and still skinny as a rake) proto-slacker star of the original cartoon.
His four-legged sidekick Scooby-Doo was never going to be a doddle, of course – rough-edged CGI does an adequate job here, expressive and appealing if not exactly a dead ringer for the original Great Dane. – But even the most inventive casting brains in Hollywood must have been stumped by putting a face and a body to ‘the Shagster’ after the most obvious physical choice – Beck – ruled himself out. So, a special Oscar please for casting-director May Vernieu for coming up with Matthew Lillard – by the end of Scooby-Doo, it’s impossible to think of any other actor in the role. He does the voice, the hair, the t-shirt and the actions so well it’s easy to overlook the one major quibble – his very un-Shaggy-ish biceps.
While never the most restrained of performers, Lillard invariably injects a love-it-or-hate-it brand of irresistible crazed energy into every project – it’s as if a bit of him is always in a cartoon. He pretty much steals the show here – even Rowan Atkinson, as ‘Spooky Island’ theme-park owner Emile Mondavarious, seems half-powered in comparison. But in terms of adherence to the original 2-D template, it’s Linda Cardellini who narrowly takes the honours as dowdy brainbox Velma): her black-framed specs (“My glasses! I can’t see without my glasses!”), plum-coloured ‘sweater’, severe black bob and scratchy voice are all amusingly, eerily accurate.
Top-billed pair Freddie Prinze, Jr and Sarah Michelle Gellar aren’t quite so picture-perfect as conceited Fred and his damsel-in-distress love interest Daphne – selected more for teen-appeal than anything else, and we can presumably blame Gellar’s Buffy baggage for Daphne’s unlikely second-half transformation into a feisty ass-kicker. Gellar’s presence is typical of a skilfully assembled – though rather cack-handedly directed – package of a movie, pitched midway between the Flintstones and Charlies’ Angels adaptations and designed to appeal to all possible audiences between 5 and 35.
There are spooky-scary chases and mild gross-out moments for the kiddies – at one point Shaggy and Scooby induldge in a lengthy fart-and-belch contest that would never have got past Hanna and Barbera. The teenage demographic is catered for by the suggestively-attired female stars and equally opportunistic nu-metal soundtrack – tragically, no room for Fun Lovin’ Criminals ‘Scooby Snacks’, even though Sugar Ray get an especially cheesy extended product-placement cameo. Older viewers who grew up with the programme, meanwhile, can tick off the obligatory, campy, post-modern in-joke references that enliven James Gunn’s sharp script (“Leave this island! Before evil befalls your skinny white aerobicised booty!” Daphne is warned by a ‘Voodoo Maestro’.)
Of course, it ’s impossible to imagine doing a ‘straight ’ movie version of Scooby-Doo – tempting though it is to imagine alternative universes in which the project was handed to Paul Verhoeven, David Lynch, Aleksandr Sokurov … But almost any mainstream director would surely cope better than Gosnell – comic timing and action sequences clearly aren ’t his strong suits, if he has any. While it may seem strange to criticise a cartoon-based movie for its flat visuals and uninspired, heavy-handed score, but let ’s hope Gosnell doesn ’t want to return for the sequel – and a follow-up is inevitable following Scooby-Doo ’s massive US opening-week box-office.
One of the studio bigwigs at Warner Bros is on record as saying that, pleased as he is by the financial performance of Gosnell ’s picture, he wants “to do it better ” next time. If so, he should let scriptwriter Gunn explore the urban myth (if myth it is) that supposedly explains the main Scooby quintet – the theory is that each of the five represents a stereotypical alumnus of rural Massachusetts ’ five major universities. And Gunn should also find room for Scooby-Dumb, Mr Doo ’s rural laid-back cousin – especially if they can pull another Lillardesque coup and get Bill Clinton to do the voice …
9th July 2002
(seen same day, Warner Village, Newcastle)
by Neil Young
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