'Scooby 2' has laughs — but originality, where are you?

Reviewing "Scooby-Doo 2: Monsters Unleashed" forced me to do something I'd scrupulously avoided for two years: watch the first "Scooby-Doo" movie.

Question: Has a movie this bad ever produced a sequel? Outside of the horror genre, and off the top of my head, I can't think of one. "Scooby-Doo" turned the Mystery Inc. team (Fred, Daphne, Velma, Shaggy and Scooby-Doo) into little starlets and broke them up 10 minutes into the picture, only to huffily reunite them seconds later. Its mystery was a punch line, and not a very good one. Beyond a few clunking gags — Fred's ascot, Velma losing her glasses — it virtually ignored the original '70s cartoon series. Really, the only thing it had going for it was Matthew Lillard's dead-on, good-natured Shaggy.

But it made more than $250 million worldwide, and so here comes "2." Directed by the same guy (Raja Gosnell), written by the same guy (James Gunn): What chance does it have?

Well, beware low expectations.

Movie review

Showtimes and trailer

"Scooby-Doo 2: Monsters Unleashed," with Freddie Prinze. Jr., Sarah Michelle Gellar, Matthew Lillard, Linda Cardellini. Directed by Raja Gosnell. Written by James Gunn. 85 minutes. Rated PG for some scary action, rude humor and language. Several theaters.

Because "2" is what "1" should have been: an homage to the original cartoon series, with some — shock — actual belly laughs. It gives us glowing, ghostly footprints and slinking through haunted mansions on exaggerated tiptoes. It even gives us Scooby-Doo (voiced by Neil Fanning) imitating Frank Sinatra scatting the "scooby dooby doo" portion of "Strangers in the Night" — the inspiration for the character's name.

The story: The local Monster Museum is displaying the costumes of the many wonderfully generic villains Mystery Inc. has unmasked over the years: the deep-sea diving Captain Cutler's Ghost, the Black Knight Ghost and the Miner 49er, to name a few. But at the grand opening, a new masked villain emerges, threatens the Mystery Inc. group and turns the costumes into — Zoinks! — real ghosts.

Suspects include "Old Man" Winkles (Peter Boyle), who was the original Black Knight Ghost; the museum curator (Seth Green), who makes a play for Velma; and a tabloid reporter (Alicia Silverstone), whose out-of-context news reports turn the hometown against Mystery Inc.

OK, so I still don't recommend the movie. Its plot is a rip-off of "Ghostbusters" (or "Ghostbusters 2," I forget), and it takes fart jokes to the next level by turning them into weapons of mass destruction. Every character is ridiculously reductive — macho Fred (Freddie Prinze Jr.), image-conscious Daphne (Sarah Michelle Gellar), scared-of-being-herself Velma (Linda Cardellini) — so that, in the end, obvious but contradictory lessons can be learned (don't be macho or image-conscious, but be yourself).

Besides, its real lessons are designed for Hollywood types: Beware the turncoat media (me) and the fickle public (you). In fact, it's you, the fickle public, who are the main villains here because you jeer those who fail, even after years of success, and you cheer again if they succeed again, seemingly forgetting all about your jeers. You're awful.

But writer Gunn did save his best jokes for the sequel. The movie's almost good enough to wash the bad taste of the first "Scooby-Doo" movie from our mouths. Almost.

Erik Lundegaard: elundegaard@comcast.net