No dog puns to start off this review of "Scooby-Doo 2: Monsters Unleashed." No exclamations of "Jinkies!" or "Zoinks!" or even the easiest (and most appropriate) of all, "Ruh-roh!"
Just a few listless keystrokes and weary sigh of resignation that this, unfortunately, is what continues to pass for family entertainment in Hollywood.
The world doesn't need a second scoop of Scooby and the gang any more than it needed the first, but here it is -- and it is as it was.
Same director (Raja Gosnell), same writer (James Gunn), same cast wearing the same costumes while snooping around the same sets investigating what may as well be the same mystery as the first "Scooby-Doo" two years ago.
Not that the mystery itself ever truly mattered, even in the Hanna-Barbera cartoon that inspired the movies. (And we're being charitable with use of the word "inspired.") The show was just an excuse for groovy hijinks and slapstick pratfalls, which inevitably would end with those meddling kids from Mystery Inc. unmasking some creepy bad guy, then driving off in their psychedelic van.
Whereas the first movie-doo found Fred (Freddie Prinze Jr.), Daphne (Sarah Michelle Gellar), Velma (Linda Cardellini), Shaggy (Matthew Lillard) and Scooby investigating a brainwashing cult at the Spooky Island theme park, this time they must determine the identity of the villain who's threatening to unleash all the monsters they've uncovered before on their hometown of Coolsville.
Neither film, though, has managed to recapture the trippy, laid-back vibe of the original cartoon, which never tried too hard. Both films, especially this new one, seem more interested in distraction through cacophony and pandemonium.
That'll make the kids laugh, at least. At a recent Saturday morning screening, Scooby's nervous flatulence was a huge hit, as were monsters that fall down a lot or spew black or green goo.
Is it too idealistic to suggest that a kids' movie should have a compulsion, or at least a cursory interest, in functioning on a higher level to entertain adults, as well -- the very adults who watched the cartoon when they were kids themselves?
When the original grosses more than $150 million, why bother?
And since we're on the subject of money, with all that was spent on elaborately detailed sets and computer-generated goblins, why is it still so obvious that Scooby isn't inhabiting the same space as the human beings who are talking to him? The scaredy-cat Great Dane (voiced by Neil Fanning) looks just as fake as he did the first movie.
Gollum from the "Lord of the Rings" movies was so vivid as he trekked alongside Frodo and Sam that the guy who brought him to life, Andy Serkis, deserved an Oscar nomination for best supporting actor. Clearly the technology exists; how hard could it have been to make Scooby-Doo look halfway real? Salem, the talking animatronic cat from "Sabrina the Teenage Witch," is more lifelike.
The actors all look and sound sufficiently like the kids from the cartoon -- especially Lillard, who again seems to be channeling Casey Kasem, the original voice of Shaggy. Any minute, you expect him to do a long-distance dedication -- and something so touchy-feely would be apropos. In a creaky subplot, the action stops repeatedly to allow the Mystery Inc. kids to confess their insecurities to each other and come to the realization that they're good enough, they're smart enough, and doggone it, people like them.
A couple of actors manage to muster some dignity: Peter Boyle as "Old Man" Wickles, a former nemesis who's a suspect in the mystery, and Seth Green as a museum curator who has a crush on Velma. Alicia Silverstone, meanwhile, is so stiff as a TV news reporter, she makes Kent Brockman from "The Simpsons" look like Jon Stewart.
MOVIE REVIEW: 'SCOOBY-DOO 2: MONSTERS UNLEASED'