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Herbie: Fully Loaded  (2005)

 

Starring: Lindsay Lohan, Matt Dillon, Justin Long, et al.

Director: Angela Robinson

Rating: G

Distributor: Walt Disney Pictures

Release Date: 06.22.05

Review Posted: 06.22.05

 

By Sara M. Fetters

 

New Herbie Running on Empty

 

The friend I took with me the other night to the screening of “Herbie Fully Loaded” decided the Disney update of the ‘60’s favorite was missing two things. The first was the presence of Buddy Hackett, the wisecracking good-hearted mechanic character that gave the original “The Love Bug” much of its comedic consistency. The other was male nudity.

 

While I’m not too sure on that last one (not that I would mind, but it would change the target demographic, that’s for sure) I can definitely agree with the first point. Disney darling (and current Simpson family foil) Lindsay Lohan is perfectly fine in the lead, and Matt Dillon is great as the central villainous NASCAR champion but, other than that, the rest of the cast, including an amazingly underutilized Michael Keaton, is astonishingly bland. Not that they’re not nice looking. Both Breckin Meyer (playing Lohan’s brother) and Justin Long (her mechanic love interest) are decent enough performers; they just don’t bring any life to the proceedings. That’s why Hackett is so sorely missed. Every time the original “The Love Bug” would slow down, he could be counted to bring it back to its comedic feet, coming up with a pratfall or a one-liner (or sometimes both) guaranteed to bring audiences to life roaring with laughter.

 

This movie doesn’t have that sparkplug. Sure, for the most part director Angela Robinson and her cast do a perfectly fine job of entertaining everyone under the age of twelve (and really that’s all they needed to do to make this update a hit), but for everyone else this is still a pretty maudlin and surprisingly self-important affair. The story of Maggie Peyton (Lohan) and her down-on-their-luck NASCAR family led by single dad Ray, Sr. (Keaton), it is amazing how seriously everyone in the movie takes things. I mean, this is a picture revolving around a girl and her super-fast ’67 Volkswagen Bug, a Beetle which just so happens to have a penchant for winning races and a mind of its own. Not exactly a scenario calling for Tolstoy.

 

Yet, with all the frowning and moping and general droopiness going on, you’d think Lohan and company were performing “War and Peace,” not a lighthearted Disney racing comedy. It tends to be a bit much, and even at just over 90 minutes Robinson and her cadre of screenwriters have trouble sustaining things to the very end. And yet, Herbie’s antics, even after almost thirty years, can still be a hoot, and Lohan has moments here and there where she sparkles so brightly it’s easy to see her having a life well beyond the Mouse House and “Mean Girls.” Then there’s Dillon rakish ace driver Trip Murphy, a rascally comic foil if ever there was one. Not since the great David Tomlinson has this franchise had a villain so much fun to hiss at, the versatile character actor jumping into his part as the figure of a car’s contempt with such unmitigated glee and abandon you’d almost believe he’d have done this movie for free. Dillon appears to be having just that good of a time and, luckily for those watching, his nasty self-centered exuberance is a joy to hate.

 

And, as I stated before, kids are going to eat Lohan and her number 53 car up with a spoon. The duo’s first ride through a dilapidated junk yard (set to the original theme music, of course) is a joy, while an early street race against Trip is a pure freewheeling joy. In fact, the majority of the sequences with the little Bug can’t help but bring on a smile, and even if that smile is just a nod to a retro past filled with a bit more hilarity it’s still a smile and that’s certainly not something to scoff at. What is worth frowning upon, however, is Robinson’s insistence on taking it all so gosh darn seriously! I feel like I’m beating a dead horse, but this is Herbie, not “Ordinary People,” and I couldn’t help but keep wishing everyone would stop confusing the two.

 

If only the beloved Hackett were still around, he’d have known how to get things moving in the right direction. A movie like this doesn’t need to be the greatest written or the best acted in the world, it just needs to have a bit of a brain and know how to have (and show the audience) a good time. That was something the dearly departed master comedienne could do in a heartbeat, something he built an entire career of good will and charm upon. It is something “Herbie Fully Loaded” dearly needs, something it so sorely lacks no amount of visual whiz-bang can make up for its loss. The kids my cheer, but for everyone else this Love Bug is running on empty.

 

Film Rating: êê  (out of 4)

 

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