A Defining Role
Rarely does an actor embody a role such that they become
entwined, actor and character, thespian and legendone's
entire career shaped by a single performance, the actor virtually
losing his identity, all his roles considered in terms of
a single performance, as if that character is the man.
Robert DeNiro as Travis Bickle. Judy Garland as Dorothy Gale.
James Dean as Jim Stark. Audrey Hepburn as Holly Golightly.
Charlie Chaplin as The Little Tramp. Humphrey Bogart as the
owner of Rick's Cafe Americain.
To that list, we must add Matthew Lillard as Norville "Shaggy"
Or do we? Many thought that Rob Lowe's performance as Shaggy
on "Saturday Night Live" was untouchable, but I
would argue that, as great a "Zoinks!" as Lowe crowed,
that Lillard's Shaggy is a more full-bodied Shaggya
realization of his essence fleshed out over the two hours
we spend with him and Mystery, Inc. Lillard throws everything
he has at the role: He conveys the fright of spooky amusement
parks by pulling his bottom lip over his chin, his yearning
for best pal Scooby by craning his neck nearly off his shoulders.
In Shaggy's more tender moments, Lillard's frantic tenor dissolves
into softness and selfless compassion, essentially conveying
the relationship between a man and his best friendquite
an amazing feat, considering that his best friend is entirely
a computer creation. Yet Lillard burrows so deeply into this
character's friendship that when his infamous cowardice gives
way to bravery in the final act's rescue of Scooby Doo, the
decision doesn't seem contrived for the sake of plot resolution.
I'm joking, of course, but I'm not going to dismiss Lillard's
performance out-of-hand simply because he's Matthew Lillard
playing Shaggy in the Scooby Doo movie. He really is very
good. Lately, I've watched so many great actors give half-ass
performances in bad movies that it's refreshing to see an
actor of lesser ability putting it all on the line, even if
for nothing at all. For instance, watching Anthony Hopkins
in Bad Company is like watching the Lakers play the
Memphis Grizzlies. But watching Lillard and Sarah Michelle
Gellar give their all in a movie like Scooby Doo is
like watching the Grizzlies and the Clippers battle to avoid
the Western Conference cellar. Though still terrible, it is
convicted and occasionally transcendent of its own ineptitude,
creating moments of unintentional genius that's far more interesting
than watching, say, Morgan Freeman feign horror while waiting
on the Super Bowl to blow up.
In actuality, Scooby Doo could have worked in a Josie
and the Pussycats kind of way. Scooby Doo sets
up the same idea: In Josie, Alan Cumming uses the band
as an innocent, unaware vehicle through which to control the
minds of children, using Carson Daly as a sort of henchman.
That film contained some mild, sometimes amusing satire on
mass media and the like, filmed entirely with in a sort of
candy-colored dreamscape meant as an impression of a culture
saturated by advertising. The design of Scooby Doo is
similar: Rowan Atkinson (Mr. Bean) runs an amusement park
whose entertainment is designed to brainwash college students.
Mark McGrath (the peroxide-scalped lead singer of Sugar Ray)
gets the Carson Daly role, who performs his soulless rock
amongst a cartoonish set resembling something that might be
Silver Dollar City with a Halloween theme.
The first thirty minutes of Scooby Doo sets up this
idea while introducing us to the crew of Mystery, Inc.: a
quartet of pop archetypes who cover the spectrum of
teen stock characters, minus, perhaps, Emilio Estevez's greaser
from The Breakfast Club. Freddie Prinze plays Fred
like, well, Freddie Prinze trying to be "Face" from
"The A-Team." Sarah Michelle Gellar is a girl-empowered
Daphne Spice who wants to be as TOUGH AS NAILS as Sandra Bullock.
Lillard's Shaggy is like the Dell computer dude playing a
stoner Screech. The most interesting member of Mystery, Inc.
is Linda Cartellucci as Velma, a rocket scientist Thora Birch
whose model of femininity is Janeane Garafolo. The opening
excavates the issues that always lurked below the surface
of the cartoon that were never properly explored: The sexual
tension between Daphne, Fred, and Velma. Daphne is sick of
being "The Damsel in Distress," and she is emboldened
to do something about it, rather than just be Fred's flirt
toy. Fred, a Ken doll adorning the cover of TigerBeat,
hogs the camera when explaining the mechanics of a mystery,
much to the resentment of Velma, the brains of the operation
who never gets the credit she deserves. The role plays to
Prinze's vanities, as if it's making fun of him to his own
oblivion. Cartellucci's "Freaks and Geeks" experience
creates a great foil, resulting in some ironic good humor,
like when Prinze tells her, "I am a man of substance.
Dorky chicks turn me on too."
I take the time to set all this up to convey my disappointment
in how it turns out. Scooby Doo could have been a decent
little satire of the teen genre moviestraining videos
of How To Be an American Teenagerwrapped around an enjoyable
kids movie. Honestly, during the first thirty or so minutes,
I was getting into the previously described setup, and I was
amused rather than annoyed when the theater full of kids all
screamed, "Look! Scooby!" when the mutt came on
screen. Heck, even a few of the parents clapped when the Mystery
Machine first pulled up. The potential is there. I imagine
that the original script was quite brilliant, in its way,
like I think the first draft of Bring It On probably
was a decent satire of the media's effect on the female image
told through a cheerleading competition. But Scooby Doo
feels like the producers showed up halfway through the
shooting and screamed, "What are you doing?!? This is
supposed to be a kids movie that's hip for adults too! Didn't
you people see Shrek? The story has to set up all these
fart jokes, yet have enough double-entendre humor so everyone
will think it's cool! C'mon people!"
The movie turns on a dime after Mr. Bean lets the gang loose
in the amusement park, resulting in an embarrassing five minute
fart and belch sequence with Scooby and Shaggy, Scrappy Doo
peeing on Daphne, pot-and-munchies gags, snot jokes, and more
cleavage than is necessary. The film just falls aparttake,
for instance, Velma's donning of the orange turtleneck in
favor of a breast-glimpsing V-neck, only to revert back to
the sweater near the end, all of which for no real reason.
The plot gets Tomb Raider-y, involving itself in some
incomprehensible subplot involving spirits leaving the body
through protoplasm and communicating with the dead through
a magic pyramid, or something like that. The story becomes
a way to get from one set piece to another, culminating into
a frantic ska-themed finale of Drew Barrymore-brand grrrl
power, pro rasslin' stunts, and snot gags. The ending is so
disappointing, so obvious a plea to the die hards that's rather
lame. A better play to the diehards, and the rest of us, would
have been an elaborate set piece involving trick pulleys,
bad guys slipping on soap suds and falling into washing machines,
glow paint for ghostly effectmaybe even a guest appearance
by an old guest star, like Meadowlark Lemon or Jerry Reed,
or maybe a new guest star. I think Rosie could have fit the
bill, or maybe The Rock.
It became rather obvious that this film didn't have the guts
to follow through on its original ideas. It should have been
the redemption of the most-oft forgotten member of the cast,
Velma, a statement that geeks can be as cool as preps too.
The director, Raja Gosnell, got his start with Robert Altman,
so maybe this venture was cursed from the outset. He had a
hand in Popeye, a supposed kids movie that Altman turned
into a Marxist rant. Scooby Doo could have had subtext
going for it, but its end-sum is animated dog snot foiling
the evil mastermind. The difference between the first half
and the last half is this: In the last half, Scooby blows
snot all over the place for people to slip on; in the first
half, a pretty girl sneezes, the camera cuts to Shaggy, whose
eyes light up while he says, "Bless you," as the
camera cuts back to the pretty girl wiping the snot off her
hand, raising her head up in front of the moon like an angel.
Bad snot joke; good snot joke. And rather than focusing on
the character with the most range and most to give to the
story, it exploits her breasts in an attempt to be hip.