Herbie: Fully Loaded (2005) / Comedy-Fantasy

MPAA Rated: G, suitable for all audiences (I'd rate it PG for some mild sensuality)
Running Time: 101 min.

Cast: Lindsay Lohan, Michael Keaton, Matt Dillon, Justin Long, Breckin Meyer, Cheryl Hines, Jimmi Simpson, Jill Ritchie, Thomas Lennon, Jeff Gordon (cameo), Dale Jarrett (cameo), Stuart Scott (cameo), Tony Stewart (cameo), Jimmie Johnson (cameo), Benny Parsons (cameo)
Director: Angela Robinson
Screenplay: Thomas Lennon, Ben Garant, Alfred Gough, Miles Millar
Review published June 25, 2005

It sure was nice enough of Disney to include an instruction on how adults should properly watch this movie for maximum enjoyment, as you'd have to be "fully loaded" to be thoroughly entertained by it. Well, maybe I'm exaggerating a bit, as the film does have its moments, but it sure wouldn't hurt to knock back a few brews anyway before giving it a go.

I have to be honest with you here. I actually expected a far worse movie, given the outdated source material and the credentials behind almost all of the makers of the movie. Director Angela Robinson had just come off of the juvenile lesbian spy flick, D.E.B.S., which wasn't exactly the best of debuts. Four screenwriters are credited, which is also generally not a good sign for a movie that doesn't require much brainpower to understand.  Looking at previous entries in their filmographies, you wouldn't be wrong to expect another stinker here -- The Pacifier, Taxi and Showtime are hardly cinematic accomplishments to be proud of.  Yet, somehow, for their kind of writing, which tends to cater to an easier to please crowd, a Herbie movie isn’t exactly expected to exercise your brain cells. 

If it works at all, it is thanks to the likeable performances from the stars of the film, with Lindsay Lohan (Mean Girls, Freaky Friday), who practically grew up making movies for Disney, knowing exactly the right way to play her role.  It’s not too serious, but not overly dumb either, playing up naivety and innocence above all else, which for a family film, is par for the course.  Matt Dillion (Crash, There's Something About Mary)  is also appealing as the film’s bad guy, while Justin Long (Dodgeball, Galaxy Quest) is nice and non-intimidating as the potential main squeeze. 

The plot is a pure fantasy, and as silly as they come, but by the time it gets going, you’re willing to believe anything can happen in the world of Herbie.  The plot is similar to other Herbie films, especially The Love Bug, where someone comes into ownership reluctantly, then discovers that the car has a personality, and they become attached.  In addition to physically emoting, Herbie is a fast little bugger -- er, Bug -- and has the ability to do crazy stunts that are generated mainly in the mind of the driver. 

Lohan plays Maggie Peyton, newly graduated from college (not bad for an 18 year old actress), and a wanna-be NASCAR driver, which has been a family tradition for a couple of generations.  Rescuing Herbie from the local junkyard, she soon finds that the 1960s VW Beetle has a mind of its own, and although she is at the wheel, she is subject to the whim and mercy of the vehicle she is in.  Herbie makes a big splash when Maggie finds herself in an impromptu street race with NASCAR champion, Trip Murphy (Dillon), and she wins.  The event, which was filmed and broadcast on ESPN, humiliates Trip to the point where he demands a rematch.  From there, Herbie becomes a national sensation, and ultimately Maggie’s dreams of becoming a champion racecar driver just might turn into reality, if only she can convince her disapproving father.

If taken on its own terms, i.e. as a children’s film, I suppose Herbie: Fully Loaded will probably meet with approval from the younger set.  Older kids will probably make fun of it for being corny, and adults familiar with Herbie might feel there is too much déjà vu in the scant story to merit making yet another sequel.  As a family film, it’s a mixed bag, so keep your expectations low.

Herbie: Fully Loaded has its moments, but really should have been just a little cleverer in its gags if it wanted to appeal to anyone but kids.  Still, if you typically like live-action Disney fare, you may find it all innocuous fun, but as a film, there is little more to it that regurgitated themes from the previous films wrapped around music video style montages all meant to make you tap your toes and have a reasonably enjoyable time.  All in all, I’m not as disappointed that Herbie wasn’t a good film as I am pleased that it wasn’t nearly as bad as it looked like it would be.  Amiable, but ultimately forgettable.

Qwipster's rating:

©2005 Vince Leo