Blast from the past

Parental nostalgia made safe for kids.


directed by Raja Gosnell with Matthew Lillard, Freddie Prinze Jr., and Sarah Michelle Gellar opens June 14 at Majestic Bay, Metro, Oak Tree, and others

FOR ALL INTENTS and purposes, this live-action adaptation of the TV kiddie cartoon—complete with a jiving, snickering, farting, belching, CGI-generated Scooby—should've been akin to George Lucas releasing Jar Jar's Spring Break: Mesa in Big Doo-Doo. Yet somehow, Raja Gosnell, the wizard behind Big Momma's House and Home Alone 3, has constructed a moderately tasteful, pastel, modern landscape for the Mystery Machine squad (first televised in 1969).

The casting of that crew—preppie egotist Fred, bombshell Daphne, smarty-pants Velma, and comic-relief cowards Shaggy and Scooby—warrants far more analysis than anything in the so-rudimentary-it's-complex plot. (Our heroes are invited to the college resort Spooky Island to determine why the throngs of Greek beachgoers are, ha-ha, suddenly behaving like zombies.)

If constructing a human facsimile of a Hanna-Barbera cartoon character is the apex of dramatic prowess, well, screw Crowe and Hanks. Scream's insufferable Matthew Lillard has thrown an early Oscar gauntlet for his portrayal of conflicted hippie carnivore Shaggy. He makes gold of the PG script's few adult opportunities, as when Shaggy learns the name of an attractive single-serving friend: "Mary Jane?! That's my favorite name!"

Less fortunate are insufferable-in-their-own-inimitable-way real-life couple Sarah Michelle Gellar (Daphne) and Freddie Prinze Jr. (Fred), who fail to squeak sexual tension into their bimbo/himbo catfights. Immensely likable Freaks and Geeks alumna Linda Cardellini lends welcome intellectual credence and charm to bookish Velma, but we get no reference to her reputed lesbianism other than a too-brief scene where she playfully tries to "scare the patooties off of Daphne."

The Mystery, Inc. crew is knee-deep in acrimony, since telegenic Fred takes all the credit for their successful detective ventures, which adds a general, pervasive bitchiness to the catchphrases. The theme-park sets and monsters are pure The Nightmare Before Christmas, which should scare the crap out of some preschoolers and entrance the rest of us looking for a reprieve from the nonstop, bass-heavy pop soundtrack. As for Scooby, he looks less realistic than the Attack of the Clones creatures—if that's possible— yet he regularly outsmarts creepy Spooky Island proprietor Rowan Atkinson (inexplicably forgiven for Bean and Rat Race).

So who's the unmasked, embittered villain at the end who would've gotten away with it, if it weren't for those meddling kids? That's the true Scooby Snack in this surprisingly edible summertime Happy Meal.

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