Scooby Doo 2: Monsters Unleashed

(2004) ** Pg
88 min. Warner Brothers. Director: Raja Gosnell. Cast: Sarah Michelle Gellar, Freddie Prinze Jr., Matthew Lillard, Linda Cardellini, Alicia Silverstone.

Scooby Doo 2: Monsters Unleashed is, like the first film, not to my taste, but it does represent a hair's breadth of improvement and kiddies will giggle, so do as you will. The sequel reunites the Scooby gang (including director Raja Gosnell and screenwriter James Gunn) to do battle with monsters and the memory of the original cartoon series, in which--as I recall--the monsters were always revealed to be hoaxes in the end. How we went from James Randi skepticism to John Edwards hocus-pocus is a matter to take up with the bean-counting studios, who know that genuine supernatural elements make for splashier special effects.

In the original series, the Scooby Gang were also "starving students," while the films extrapolate that square Fred (Freddie Prinze, Jr.), ass-kicking Daphne (Sarah Michelle Gellar), bookish Velma (Linda Cardellini), and inseparable foodies Scooby and Shaggy (Matthew Lillard) have become rich celebrities (complete wth Mystery Machine limo). The film opens at the gala premiere of a Mystery, Inc. exhibit at the Coolsville museum. When the exhibit is vandalized by a costumed freak and his monstrous minions, Gunn rapidly establishes multiple suspects: Seth Green's curator (smitten with, and jilted by, Velma), Alicia Silverstone's headline-grabbing reporter, Peter Boyle's one-time Mystery, Inc. apprehendee Old Man Wickles, and Tim Blake Nelson's presumed dead evil genius Professor Jacopo.

The conceit of digging into Mystery, Inc.'s storied past isn't bad, but the fatal lack of taste is. As much as, if not more than, the original, Scooby Doo 2 is loud, so very loud. Burger King product placement, American Idol cameo, and even post-credits Game Boy secret code drown out Gunn's "Be Yourself" theme (endlessly and cleverly iterated though it may be). Lillard again gets the best of the worst, croaking lines like "Hiding is our plan—in case you hadn't noticed, there's an Unidentified Freaky Object in here!" and "Like, they're totally having a montage in there without us!" in Casey Kasem's patented stoner-dude voice. The sequel's marginal improvement is owed to a dynamic third act which embraces a Ghostbusters paradigm of ectoplasmic goop and city-street-threatening terrors. But if, like me, you no longer have the energy of a five-year-old, you'll probably cry uncle long before then. So very loud.

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