The plot is simple. Four twentysomethings and a Great Dane solve mysteries as Mystery Inc. They are: the beautiful damsel in distress Daphne, the brainy nerd Velma, handsome but vapid Fred (he wears an ascot), and the shaggy well, Shaggy. The Great Dane, as anyone alive in the last 20 or so years knows, is Scooby-Doo.
After foiling yet another sinister villain (whose supernatural powers are easily explained by Velma, as usual), Mystery Inc. disbands when Fred takes all the credit -- everyone, that is, except for Shaggy and Scooby. Two years later, the eccentric Mondavarious (Rowan Atkinson, in a much more palatable comic turn than his Bean fare) separately summons the Mystery Inc.-ers to his Spooky Mountain theme park, hoping to reunite the gang to solve the mystery of why his patrons leave the island as zombies. What ensues is a parade of zany high jinks inspired by (if not directly borrowed from) the original Saturday morning cartoon.
This movie is weird. It isn't quite adult enough for adults -- albeit there is a pretty funny marijuana joke peppered in for anyone who rightly suspected Shaggy of partaking of more than Scooby Snacks. It's a little too scary for kids -- misery and woe to the preadolescent who is afraid of clowns and funhouses, 'cause there is some pretty messed-up stuff on Spooky Island. In fact, I was even a little creeped out myself by some of the monster gore and demonic occupants of the haunted castle. There is also some odd business involving a soul-stealing device -- hence the zombies. If I were a child, I would come out of this experience with major questions about what a soul is, how it can be extracted from my body, and whether or not it can bounce about like a pinball. Also a bit frightening: the zombies, who talk in "true dat" street slang and listen to Sugar Ray.
But scariest of all: Someone at Warner Bros. thought this movie might be a good idea. Why bother producing a live-action version of a cartoon only to reproduce, to the smallest detail, the way cartoons work? That's fun for about five minutes but then what? And the acting? This is no Who Framed Roger Rabbit?. Real-life sweethearts Sarah Michelle Gellar as Daphne and Freddie Prinze Jr. as Fred are as flat as their pen-and-ink predecessors. Though Linda Cardellini makes a game Velma, this movie does nothing to support the lesbian rumors that are traditionally associated with the character. (A kiss between her and Daphne was excised from the film just before its release. Damn!) Only Matthew Lillard as Shaggy rises above as at least a human caricature. His delivery is nearly letter-perfect Casey Kasem (the cartoon's original voice), with some actual pathos and charm the original Shaggy lacked -- an improvement. Scooby is the cheapest-looking computer-generated work since Michael Keaton's snowman in Jack Frost and the Scorpion Monster in The Mummy Returns. His vocabulary has improved, but his body should have stayed a cartoon. Even a Pete's Dragon cartoon/live-action treatment might have looked snazzier.
The script is nothing new. This plot has figured in bits and pieces in better movies and even better episodes of the series. Although, unlike the original series, there are human feelings on display, they are as one-dimensional as just about everything else. A superficial friendship-overcomes-everything theme does not redeem here. I had many of the same problems with The Flintstones. Colorful, amusing, but flat flat flat. But Hanna-Barbera didn't exactly produce the most three-dimensional cartoons, did it? Bugs Bunny this isn't. Hell, this isn't even as involving as a (good) G.I. Joe. But this is the studio that brought you the Hair Bears, Snagglepuss, and the Shmoo. Be disappointed. Be very disappointed.
-- Bo List
Weaponry seems to be the main focus of Hollywood's summer-movie slate -- from the threat of nuclear terrorism in The Sum Of All Fears to the possibility of an atomic bomb falling into the wrong hands in Bad Company to The Bourne Identity, which places its vision of armaments in the form of a human being. That human being is one Jason Bourne (played by a buffer-than-usual Matt Damon), a top-secret government agent who becomes the target of an intricate CIA hit after he loses his memory.
With its trans-European setting and cool casting, The Bourne Identity is sleeker than many of the early summer blockbusters. Unfortunately, Damon is the weakest link in a cast that includes Franka Potente (the fire-haired sprinter at the heart of Run Lola Run), Clive Owen (who made audiences take notice as the ultra-cool card dealer in Mike Hodges' memorable Croupier), and American ingenue Julia Stiles. Beginning with Damon's rescue at sea (his seemingly lifeless body is found adrift in the Mediterranean by a fishing boat), The Bourne Identity works on the same trajectory and schematic as Enemy Of the State. Like Will Smith, who's targeted by a pervasive and fast-acting government organization for reasons unknown to him, Damon is the focal point of a massive witch-hunt by an equally diabolical U.S. agency. And, like Smith, Damon must unravel why he's being chased while he's running like hell.
Unable to remember his own name, Damon discovers he has a host of uncanny skills -- he has the fighting abilities of Bruce Lee at warp speed; he speaks a multitude of languages; and he's constantly mapping out escape routes in every room he enters -- plus an unusual box of goodies at the local Swiss bank -- a plethora of passports, a gun, and a hefty sum of money. So what's an amnesiac to assume? Damon quickly figures out he was working for some high-profile folks and now is their main target.
Hoping to get from Zurich to Paris unnoticed, Damon recruits a comely German with a rickety old Mini (Franka Potente) to take him across the border. The two quickly become more than just friends, and, before you know it, the forgetful spy and footloose European are running scared from hired assassins and intricate wire-tappings.
Though Damon's past is never fully revealed, the most disappointing element of The Bourne Identity is the fact that the film focuses most of its attention on the duo on the lam. Certainly more compelling is the assassination plot launched against Damon, in which said evil U.S. agency activates a circle of European spies (who were crafted similarly to Damon) to hunt down their loose cannon. Clive Owen plays the predominant assassin of this bunch, but his role is diminished too greatly as well.
With its Matrix-like fight scenes and intricate spy-gaming, The Bourne Identity teeters on the edge of boredom without ever toppling over. -- Rachel Deahl