Eric D. Snider

Scooby-Doo 2: Monsters Unleashed

Surely everyone enjoys seeing a cartoon dog light his own farts on fire as a means of staving off an enemy. And who doesn't think it's funny when a knight in armor is kicked in the crotch and he says, "Ooh! Right in the round tables!"?

Because these ideas are clever and entertaining, you should by all means take your children to see "Scooby-Doo 2: Monsters Unleashed." Be prepared to stop at Burger King afterward, though; you will find two direct references to the chain within the first 17 minutes of the movie, and BK is where all the "Scooby-Doo" toys are.

This sequel to the 2002 hit, again directed by Raja Gosnell ("Big Momma's House," "Never Been Kissed") and again combining live action with an animated Scooby, finds Mystery Inc. at the height of fame. A museum exhibit featuring costumes used by criminals the gang has caught over the years is about to open, and media attention is high.

Unfortunately, some maniac is turning the costumes into real monsters, daring Mystery Inc. to stop him. But who is it? Recently released criminal Old Man Wickles (Peter Boyle) is a suspect, and it's possible escaped convict Jacobo (Tim Blake Nelson) or museum curator Patrick (Seth Green) are the culprits, too.

It's a lot of loud, silly stuff, mostly inoffensive (MOSTLY), and more tolerable than its predecessor, though it's still a long way from being what I'd call "good." I'd like to believe this muted, backhanded non-endorsement of the film will prevent people from seeing it, but I'm more realistic than that.

Freddie Prinze Jr. again proves that the bland, forgettable Fred is the part he was born to play. (He may take that as a compliment if he likes.) Sarah Michelle Gellar fares better as Daphne than she did last time, in that she's no longer made to be an airhead. (It's good to see Buffy fighting evil again, too.) And Linda Cardellini is forever a welcome sight as Velma, whose budding romance with Patrick is cute indeed.

Once again, I'm compelled to give props to Matthew Lillard, who plays Shaggy. A grating, hyper-comic actor in the worst tradition, Lillard has found his niche in the "Scooby-Doo" films. Here his rubbery faces and loose-limbed goofiness actually work, because where better to act like a cartoon character than when your nearest co-star is, in fact, a cartoon? He has Shaggy's voice and delivery down pat, and he's got the technical skill required to make his scenes with the added-in-later Scooby look believable (which is harder than it sounds). I still hope he never, ever appears in any other film, but in this franchise, he's OK.

It should not surprise you to learn that Ruben Studdard appears in the end to sing a song over the closing credits, and to dance with the Scooby characters. I believe that here, like Prinze and Lillard, Studdard has found where he truly belongs.

Grade: C

Rated PG, cartoon-y violence and some crude humor

1 hr., 31 min.

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