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Friday, July 12, 2002

Keith Keener's

Positive Movie Reviews


If you're anything like me...wait, the evidence suggests that you're a lot like me. I recently took one of those personality tests on the internet, where they ask you questions like "Think of three adjectives to describe the ocean" and "I get an erection when I hear news stories about priests molesting altar boys ... A) Always, B) Never, C) Sometimes." I wasn't sure about that, because I didn't know if the fact that sometimes I'm too drunk during the late night news to get an erection meant that I'm "Sometimes" or more like "Always" with an asterisk. So I put down "Sometimes." Anyway, it turns out that my personality is completely average. Seriously, if you ask the same questions to all Americans, then divide the results of the answers by about 270 million, you get Keith Keener.

So let me rephrase that:

Since you are a lot like me, you probably have been looking forward to the film version of Scooby-Doo since, well, since your parents let you out of the closet once a week to watch Saturday morning cartoons, then fed you cold oatmeal and rinsed you out good with castor oil. It is the fondest memory of my childhood days in Waukesha, Wisconsin. Those crazy members of the mystery-solving band Hole Shaggy, Velma, Scooby-Doo, Fred, and Courtney could always put a smile on my face, and keep it there even on those nights when my parents put a glow-in-the-dark Mr. Skeleton in the closet with me. As you might remember, Shaggy was the lovable goofball, Velma the smart lesbian, Scooby-Doo the cowardly dog, Fred was the intelligent hunk, and Courtney was the slutty blonde who was always terrorized by the ghost of her husband Kurt. But in every episode, they would pull the mask off "Kurt's" face, and it would turn out to be Old Man Whitaker, a lonely man who would say "And I would have gotten away with blowing my own head off with a shotgun too, if it weren't for those meddling kids." Then he would blow off his own head with a shotgun. And then a freeze frame of Shaggy and Scooby comically running away from the exploding brains and skull bits.

Somehow they've brought it to life in a daring film that dares you to laugh, to cry ... and to think. In this new movie, Shaggy (Matthew Lillard), Velma (Linda Cardellini, in a performance so good you almost forget she's Italian, even wanting to forgive the rest of her filthy, cursed kind), Fred (Freddie Prinze Jr.), Courtney (Sarah Michelle Slayer), and Scooby (Some Awesome Special Effects) have been brought to Spooky Island, an amusement park and so much more. Its owner, Rowan Atkinson says he wants them to solve a mystery, which involves brainwashing, a midget, a Spanish wrestler, 12-foot-tall ghost dogs, a pirate named Cap'n Viagra, a masturbating turtle with a heart of gold, and a super-scary rollercoaster made entirely out of Twizzlers, As Hole goes ever deeper into the mystery, they also learn a little bit about each other. Like that Scooby-Doo and Shaggy like eating, Courtney and Fred are in love with each other, and Velma enjoys a love scene with Peanuts star Peppermint Patty.

But what sets Scooby-Doo apart from other movies based on old television shows, like Charlie's Angels, Wild Jim West, and The Mod Squad, is the fact that it actually has a somewhat ironic tone. Like you are not only laughing with the old show, but also laughing at it, sort of. In fact, the movie careens at breakneck pace from one marvelous slapstick scene to the next. In the course of five minutes, Scooby-Doo and Shaggy drive through a wall on all-terrain cycles, and then spin them in a hairpin turn. In another part, Velma loses her glasses ... and then has to look for them. Fred admires his own muscles in a mirror, then says something silly. Oh, and the climax is so brilliantly written and directed that I watched in disbelief, thinking that Jesus must love me so very much to have brought this film into my life. And just when I thought the movie was over, they added a scene over the closing credits, a scene in which Scooby and Shaggy have an eating contest. That was when I stopped thinking about how much Jesus loves me, and started *believing* it.

I know what you're thinking: this sounds so good, why hire such good actors for the parts? But it really pays off. Many people, like myself, thought they would never laugh again when Freddie Prinze Sr. died at the hands of The Man, after he became discouraged that the Man is so hard to understand. I remember thinking, if only he had a son, and if only that son were in the Scooby-Doo cartoon. Who could have guessed it. Prinze Jr. is so good in the movie, so hilarious, so biting and nuanced in his performance, that one thinks that this may be the role that will finally win him an audience among gay men. Sarah Michelle Slayer is so vapid, so self-absorbed, so perfectly clumsy at reciting even lines like "Yes" that you swear she is pretty much channeling the part of Courtney, not just playing her. This is far, far more than a performance. Even better is the fact that Prinze, Jr. and Sarah Michelle are currently going out in real life, showing that intercultural relationships sometimes work out, in spite of my misgivings about them. And to think I was part of it, by seeing the movie.

That's a big part of what makes the movie a lot of fun. Because the whole movie is sort of winking at you, like "we are making a Scooby-Doo movie, how crazy is that? Wait, let's watch Scooby and Shaggy have a farting contest," you feel like you're part of all the fun. And the cast seems like such a nice, talented bunch, that I am really glad that I could financially support them by buying a ticket. It's like we're all friends.

Much of the fun really comes from the screenwriter, James Gunn. You can read about him on his page at the Internet Movie Database. Make sure you click on both the photo gallery and the long biography. A lot of screenwriters wouldn't have a long bio telling you about their college days, but after the all-nighter he pulled to write Scooby-Doo, Gunn was still a little wired and decided to share some of his life with us. And I, for one, am grateful.

Many of you know that it's sort of a miracle that we got to see Scooby-Doo at all. It was originally based on an East German cartoon (Der Detektivhund und Sich Einmischendkinder), and it took decades to get the rights. And when they made the movie, filming had to be delayed six times because of Rowan Atkinson's repeated suicide attempts, all of them ending with colleagues reminding him that Bill Murray still has a career after being in Charlie's Angels. The film was then scheduled for release last fall, but was delayed when Casey Kasem the Lebanese-American radio personality who provided the voice of the original Shaggy was arrested in connection with the September 11th attacks. He was later released and cleared of all charges, but at the time, the studio thought it was prudent to hold off on the film. Of course, it makes it all the more ironic that two days after the film's release last week, Kasem was arrested as accessory to multiple homicides, when it was found that nearly 75% of the "Long Distance Dedications" on "America's Top 40" have been called in by serial killers stalking their victims; Kasem is conservatively estimated to be responsible personally for 140 murders over the years. Fortunately, the police kept it quiet so it didn't hurt Scooby-Doo at the box office. Anyway, it's possible that Kasem didn't actually know that most of the callers were serial killers, and I think he shouldn't be executed without having a fair military tribunal first.

I had to go to the bathroom after the movie ended, and while I was there, I stared at myself in the mirror for a few minutes, trying hard to remember my face at that moment, to remember how I felt and how I looked after having watched this truly historic film. It's like people remember where they were when they heard that J.R. had been shot. I will never forget the look on my face.

I predict that the next time Shaggy and company rip the mask off a ghost, it'll look an awful lot like Oscar!

On a scale of four or five stars, I give Scooby-Doo twenty stars.


Earlier positive movie reviews can be found at home.earthlink.net/~dleheny