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SCOOBY-DOO To simply blast the film version of Scooby-Doo because it's cheesy and redundant would be like criticizing a red pepper because it's hot and spicy. For better or worse, a movie that purports to recapture the spirit of the original cartoon would by necessity have to include all manner of elements sure to draw groans and cringes, and on that count, Scooby-Doo works. Yet while that may hardly sound like a ringing endorsement, it's the film's very awareness of its own kitsch quotient that allows it to qualify as a likable lark. Indeed, there's a certain intelligence at work in the way the movie subtly connects to the cartoon show in which four meddling kids -- Fred, Daphne, Velma and Shaggy -- and their dog spend each episode solving a spooky mystery. Director Raja Gosnell (Big Momma's House) possesses the right sensibility to bring to life the slapdash drive of the cartoon, while the script includes funny toss-offs regarding everything from Velma's sweater to Shaggy's rumored pothead status to that infernal pup Scrappy-Doo. Three spectacularly bad actors -- Freddie Prinze Jr., Sarah Michelle Gellar and Matthew Lillard -- are respectively cast as Fred, Daphne and Shaggy (Velma, long presented as one of the homeliest characters in comicdom, is played by the cute-as-a-button Linda Cardellini), yet while Prinze and Gellar never come to life, Lillard steals the show with his dead-on Shaggy impersonation. Still, a tone that was tolerable in 30-minute chunks on TV grows oppressive within the framework of an 80-minute movie, and the filmmakers' efforts to update the action for modern sensibilities (for starters, there's an interminable sequence in which Shaggy and Scooby engage in a flatulence face-off) will invariably make the movie seem even more dated than the animated series. 1/2
THE SUM OF ALL FEARS It's been eight years since Clear and Present Danger, the last film to feature Tom Clancy's character of CIA hotshot Jack Ryan, but this late-blooming entry shows that none of the luster has worn off the series; in fact, as far as spy games go, the Jack Ryan line has largely proven to be immensely more enjoyable than the recent 007 adventures with Pierce Brosnan. In the role previously essayed by Harrison Ford and Alec Baldwin, Ben Affleck takes over as a younger, more naive Jack Ryan, a CIA analyst who's ordered by the company director (Morgan Freeman) to lend his expertise to a matter in which American-Russian tensions could possibly lead to World War III. Ryan figures out that the real villains in the matter at hand belong to a third party (neo-Nazis, to be exact), yet he has his hands full trying to convince his superiors of this fact before events turn explosive. Working from a script by Paul Attanasio and Daniel Pyne, director Phil Alden Robinson has crafted an intelligent thriller that patiently lays out the necessary expository groundwork in the first half so that matters can come to an exciting head in the second part. The film could have used a little more grit and a little less slick, but overall, it's a welcome throwback to 60s era Cold War dramas that invariably starred the likes of Michael Caine or Richard Burton.
UNDERCOVER BROTHER Can you dig it? In the words of Forrest Gump, stupid is as stupid does in this highly amusing dum-dum comedy that not only takes a swipe at that Tom Hanks blockbuster but also manages to include jabs at everything from "Ebony and Ivory" to Dennis Rodman to the continual Oscar shafting of Spike Lee (director Malcolm D. Lee is Spike's cousin, so the dig is expected -- and earned). Beating the Austin Powers films at their own game, this blaxploitation spoof downplays the raunch in favor of gags that rely on the strength of their own cleverness as opposed to the extent of their outrageousness. Granted, this hit-and-miss mode results in a lot of groaners, but when you have something as doltish as Bad Company in theaters pretending to be a comedy, this film's cheeky attitude is even more appreciated. Eddie Griffin plays the title character, described as "a Soul Train reject with a Robin Hood complex." He joins up with the B.R.O.T.H.E.R.H.O.O.D. to take on The Man, the secretive white male who's always conspiring to keep African-Americans down. At first, UB is successful in his efforts to thwart the villains, but eventually he finds himself succumbing to "the black man's Kryptonite": a Caucasian beauty known as White She Devil (Denise Richards). Even at a mere 88 minutes, this slight film tempts fate, but the big laughs are tumultuous enough to barrel right over the slow patches (usually, the scenes involving Chris Kattan as a Man servant).