Car reincarnated

Doublemint twins, movies about cute little Volkswagens flirting with each other—everything old is new again.

Doublemint twins, movies about cute little Volkswagens flirting with each other—everything old is new again.

Rated 2.0

As a kid, I had zero interest in the Herbie movies. I didn’t find Volkswagen bugs all that appealing or cuddly, and I generally steered away from anything with the scary Buddy Hackett in it (with the exception of It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World. That rocked!).

As an adult, I find myself still relatively unenthused on the Herbie front. He’s cute from time to time, but his shtick gets tired after 45 minutes.

The folks at Disney give it a good go with Herbie: Fully Loaded, a restart of the innocuous kiddy franchise that began in 1968 with The Love Bug and ended with the tired 1997 television movie of the same name (starring Evil Dead‘s Bruce Campbell). They’ve assembled a good cast, and the film is rather breezy for its first half, but, when it stoops to schmaltzy sentimentality, it loses its way.

Looking kind of cute in her racing suit, Lindsay Lohan takes a bit of a career detour as Maggie, a wannabe race car driver who is forced to go through college because her pops (Michael Keaton, squinting away) is all scared about her driving fast and potentially dying. For college graduation, Dad gives Maggie chump change for a junkyard car, and she settles on Herbie the Bug, moments before his scheduled demolition.

Right off the bat, things happen with this car that would make your average person die from the sheer horror and shock, right there in the front seat. The possessed car takes off on its own, nearly runs over mechanic Justin Long of Dodgeball fame and takes on an extremely popular race car driver (Matt Dillon) in an impromptu drag race. The rush of racing gets Maggie all worked up about driving fast again, much to the chagrin of Father, and much to the delight of the smitten Long.

There are romantic subplots involving Lohan and Long, as well as Herbie and one of those new-model Bugs. The sexual innuendo is obvious (antennas straightening out, lights going on) but quite tame. This is a G-rated movie, so Bug-on-Bug exhaust pipe action is not allowed.

Lohan is a real charmer, and she showed some nice acting chops in Mean Girls. Her career started with Disney—she was great in The Parent Trap—so perhaps she didn’t feel it was time to leave the Mickey nest just yet. I’m guessing this will be one of her last ventures tailored to her pre-teen fan base, and more adult fare could be on the way. That said, she’s about as believable as an actress can be emoting and conversing with a car. That takes talent. Just ask Dean Jones and Ken Berry.

In the villain role, Matt Dillon is perhaps the film’s most enjoyable character. Clearly aware of how ridiculous the material is, he chomps the scenery and appears to be having a good time. It’s quite the change of pace after his work in this year’s powerful Crash, perhaps his best dramatic work since Drugstore Cowboy.

My guess is kids will eat this stuff up, especially those who like all that NASCAR stuff. In fact, if you are a kid, or you are an adult weighing whether or not you should take a kid to this movie, go ahead and bump this review up a notch to the “good” popcorn carton. I didn’t like it all that much, but I’m clearly not the target audience.

Herbie: Fully Loaded is harmless, forgivably inane pap that’s suitable for a weekend matinee. The late Buddy Hackett would be proud—or he’d just do that annoying, eyes-bugging-out face he always did. God, I couldn’t stand that guy.