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(2004) (Freddie Prinze Jr., Matthew Lillard) (PG)

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Comedy: A quartet of crime solvers and their talking dog try to figure out who's responsible for unleashing numerous ghost monsters on their town.
The ghost-busting team of Mystery, Inc. -- Fred (FREDDIE PRINZE JR.), Daphne (SARAH MICHELLE GELLAR), Velma (LINDA CARDELLINI), Shaggy (MATTHEW LILLARD) and Scooby-Doo -- are set to attend the opening ceremonies of the Coolsville Criminology Museum that will feature the costumes worn by those they've debunked over the years. Yet, things go terribly wrong when a Pterodactyl ghost literally crashes the events in front of TV reporter Heather (ALICIA SILVERSTONE) and museum curator Patrick (SETH GREEN) who's sweet on Velma.

In an instant, Mystery, Inc.'s reputation is ruined and the team has to figure out who or what is responsible for what occurred. Their first thought is of the man who first inhabited the pterodactyl costume -- Jonathon Jacobo (TIM BLAKE NELSON) -- but he supposedly perished during a prison break. They then think of his former cellmate, Old Man Jeremiah Wickles (PETER BOYLE), and thus set off to look for clues in his mansion.

As Velma tries to deal with her feelings toward Patrick, and Shaggy and Scooby are determined to become serious detectives, the group's discoveries lead them to an abandoned mine. There, they accidentally activate a monster-making machine that pumps life into the costumes of the ghosts and monsters from the museum. From that point on, the group tries to avoid those monsters while working to figure out and unmask the culprit behind them.

OUR TAKE: 1 out of 10
For all of the hullabaloo that the January and February awards shows generate in celebrating the artistic achievement of the film world, one must remember that this is an industry where making movies means making money. You can't really fault them for that since they obviously need to generate profits to cover the costs and expenses of current and future projects.

Yet, one can only think they'd be able to meld art and commerce in a satisfying and successful fashion more often than they do. Then there's the fact that moviegoers should seek out and reward good films with their patronage. Of course, average viewers and critics are likely to disagree over what's good, particularly when the product is aimed at kids.

Thus, the shocking success of the live-action adaptation of "Scooby-Doo." Despite being near universally panned -- including by yours truly -- the film went on to gross more than $150 million domestically. Not surprisingly, such figures automatically dictated a sequel. Since the first film was so bad and sequels are usually (but not always) worse than their predecessors, I only had a glimmer of hope that a different sort of film would be the result.

It doesn't take long in sitting through "Scooby-Doo 2: Monsters Unleashed" that such fanciful aspirations are completely dashed. In short, the sequel -- directed by Raja Gosnell ("Big Momma's House," "Scooby-Doo") from a screenplay by James Gunn ("Dawn of the Dead," "Scooby-Doo") -- is pretty much like the original only worse and more annoying. At least the first film had the fun of seeing the much beloved cartoon characters brought to life, including Matthew Lillard's near spot-on physical and vocal impersonation of Shaggy.

Once such introductions were over and the funhouse-type set designs were noted, however, the weak plot and lame direction left the cast high and dry. The same holds true here, except that the novelty factor is obviously now gone. Rather than having the effort spoof the old Saturday morning TV show and/or turn into a younger version of "Ghostbusters," we're treated to the same sort of insipid and simplified plot that fueled the first film (and the original series for that matter).

Perhaps that's supposed to be the self-referential, inside joke, but I rather doubt it and it's not remotely amusing anyway. There are a few minor subplots -- such as Velma liking but being nervous around a museum curator, and Shaggy and Scooby deciding to become serious detectives -- but the story is really about the group trying to identify the masked character who's unleashing ghosts from the show's past.

It isn't remotely interesting or engaging despite the efforts of the filmmakers to appease both kids and adults. Like the first time around, the fart jokes and slapstick material fall flat while the sexualization of the leading ladies continues. This go round it's Velma who appears in a skintight, leather cat suit that ends up making farting sounds (killing two proverbial birds, I suppose, with one stone), thus making this a problematic choice for families. Some of the material is too adult for kids, while the younger skewing elements will likely try the patience of most adults.

Not surprisingly, the performances are about on part with those from the first film, although Freddie Prinze Jr. ("Summer Catch," "Head Over Heels") seems distracted most of the time and has even abandoned the traditional Fred hairdo and more.

Beyond Lillard ("The Perfect Score," "Thirteen Ghosts") who can't recapture the fun of impersonating the cartoon character, Sarah Michelle Gellar ("Harvard Man," "Cruel Intentions") and Linda Cardellini ("Legally Blonde," "Strangeland") are bland playing the feminine side of Mystery, Inc. Once again, the titular canine arrives via a computer and still doesn't look like he fits into his live-action surroundings any better than the first time.

The likes of Seth Green ("The Italian Job," "Rat Race"), Peter Boyle ("The Adventures of Pluto Nash," "Monster's Ball"), Alicia Silverstone ("Love's Labour's Lost," "Blast from the Past") and Tim Blake Nelson ("Wonderland," "Holes") appear as the "guest stars" whose characters may or may not be the suspect. Oh, the suspense and mystery is killing me. Alas, none can do much with their parts and the usually reliable Nelson barely gets any screen time.

The soundtrack is the "most" entertaining aspect of the film -- which is pretty much by default -- although it's all over the place and even features Ruben "American Idol" Studdard belting out the closing song (after we've previously been treated to Scooby dancing around sporting a '70s afro).

Bad in just about every way imaginable, not to mention coming off as quite boring and irritating, you may just end up joining me in wishing that the ghosts or facsimiles thereof would win to avoid a third installment of this badly executed franchise. While it will likely make enough money to entertain thoughts of "Scooby-Doo 3: We're Stealing Money out of Your Pockets," "Scooby-Doo 2: Monsters Unleashed" only warrants a 1 out of 10.

Reviewed March 20, 2004 / Posted March 26, 2004

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