Don’t do ‘Scooby 2’

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The makers of 2002’s “Scooby-Doo” might have gotten away without making a sequel, if it weren’t for those darn kids.

Only the juvenile set could see past the pandering plot and charmless gags peddled by that large screen adaptation of the animated television hit.

“Scooby-Doo 2: Monsters Unleashed” has one obvious advantage over the first film: It doesn’t have a very hard act to follow. The original boasted Matthew Lillard’s dead-on Shaggy impersonation and little else.

Consider “Doo 2” an improvement, if only by swapping out some of the scatological humor and reinforcing the bonds between the Mystery Inc. members.

The cast from the 2002 film returns, just in time to celebrate the launch of a new exhibit featuring their nastiest foes.

The quintet is basking in red-carpet adulation when an old nemesis, The Black Knight, crashes the party. The cloaked creature threatens Mystery Inc. and the whole town of Coolsville with extermination.

Fred (Freddie Prinze Jr.), Daphne (Sarah Michelle Gellar) and their pals quickly set out to solve their newest mystery.

Their mission isn’t made any easier by Heather Jasper-Howe (Alicia Silverstone), a dishy reporter who liberally edits her newscasts to slam the ghost busters.

In between frights, a powerful case of nerd love blooms within Velma, who as fleshed out by Linda Cardellini, is hardly bookish. Particularly when she dons a red leather ensemble to impress her nebbishy crush, Patrick (Seth Green).

Miss Gellar’s character remains a gorgeous cipher, but don’t blame returning director Raja Gosnell for her cardboard stylings. Fred and Daphne on the small screen were nothing more than prettily drawn faces. Could any director have realistically been expected to coax deep performances out of shallow talents such as Miss Gellar or Mr. Prinze?

“Monsters Unleashed” does ladle out a few “messages” for the kiddie set, like trusting oneself and the power of friendship, but they feel like afterthoughts, not themes woven into the story.

The first “Doo” gave us a scatologically inept cameo by Scrappy Doo. There’s nothing so offensive here, save two product placements sure to make youngsters beg for a certain fast food burger by movie’s end.

Mr. Lillard still makes the most of his hippie-fied Shaggy, whose crooked walk and “zoinks”-speak overshadow the incoherent mystery.

The film’s special effects team does wonders with the monsters in question, an adroit blend of snazzy visuals and nods to the cartoon series’ old villains.

Yet too many gags fizzle and die before our eyes, like when Scooby fakes a case of rabies to sneak away from his pals.

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