To say that the second Scooby-Doo movie is an improvement over the first isn’t really much of a compliment—a night of UPN sitcoms would have been more entertaining than that disaster. But with Monsters Unleashed, the Time Warner military-industrial-entertainment complex seems to have come up with a proper, summer-style kiddie flick that nostalgia-craving Gen X-ers can enjoy as well. Mystery Inc. is invited to an exhibit at the Coolsonian Museum (located in Coolsville, a name which is either sublime, stupid, or sublimely stupid), which celebrates the gang’s most famous cases by displaying the costumes of the people they unmasked. They get the full red-carpet treatment—even Velma gets some screaming adulation courtesy of a pack of Sapphic lookalike fans. But they barely get a chance to sample the canapes when an caped villain straight out of Mighty Morphin Power Rangers busts the place up, bringing a pterodactyl to life and stealing all the monster costumes in the process. Since this is a movie, and not a Saturday morning cartoon, the gang has more to contend with than a silly ghost or haunted house. They’ve got press issues (Alicia Silverstone as a muckracking TV reporter who always quotes Fred out of context) and Velma’s fixation with the museum curator (Seth Green). There’s also a dose of—get this—character development, as Shaggy and Scooby try to prove to the gang that they’re not screw-ups. The movie still has many of the same problems as its predecessor: an over-reliance on elaborate special effects, and finding the newest, lowest common denominator to sink to (Scooby’s flatulence plays a crucial role during the film’s climax). But James Gunn’s script makes a little more of an effort to be clever and, most importantly, brings the movie back to its TV basics: sticking Mystery Inc. inside a creepy old complex dealing with an angry old man in some elaborate getup. More often than not, the jokes fall flat, but Freddie Prinze Jr. and Sarah Michelle Geller are engaging in their willingness to send up their own teen-idol status, and though Scooby is still a CGI nuisance that demands getting used to, Matthew Lillard’s Shaggy is still frighteningly dead-on—his goony energy carries the movie through its lamer patches. Also, Monsters Unleashed quickly gets its most obvious product placement out of the way. Thankfully, there’s no sign of Scrappy-Doo, which really should count for something, right?
- Raja Gosnell
- James Gunn
- Freddie Prinze Jr., Sarah Michelle Gellar, Matthew Lillard, Linda Cardellini, Seth Green, Peter Boyle, Tim Blake Nelson, Alicia Silverstone
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