June 24, 2005

Herbie: Fully Loaded

Directed by Angela Robinson Starring Lindsay Lohan, Michael Keaton and Matt Dillon

Reviewed by Martin Tsai

Just as insects have outlasted dinosaurs, the Volkswagen Beetle hasn’t gone out of style since its introduction in the 1930s. This fact has enabled Disney to continue milking its Herbie franchise that first rolled off the assembly line in 1968. The Love Bug has already starred in four features, a TV series and a TV movie, and also outlived other anthropomorphic/possessed/psycho cars such as KITT from Knight Rider, Stephen King’s (as well as John Carpenter’s) Christine and the claymation stars of Chevron commercials. In a serious effort to resurrect Herbie, Disney has let its multi-hyphenate in-house princess Lindsay Lohan take it out for a spin. The resulting Herbie: Fully Loaded is a ride that old and new fans alike can enjoy. It is unexpectedly faithful to the previous films, yet it proves to be the franchise’s strongest vehicle – and not just because special effects have improved.

Lohan stars as Maggie, a motherless skateboarding troublemaker from a modest family who once totaled a car in a street race and has subsequently reformed herself as a college grad/perspective ESPN intern. Her father Ray Sr. (Michael Keaton) forbids her to share the family’s three-generation racing legacy, and her accident-prone brother Ray Jr. (Breckin Meyer) is underwhelming on the track. Upon learning that Maggie’s best pal (Jill Ritchie) got a spiffy new ride as a graduation present, Ray Sr. takes his daughter to a junkyard to let her pick one out for herself. The 42-year-old Herbie is also there waiting to be compressed. Maggie inadvertently rescues the car and soon learns that it has a mind of its own, which would be frightening under normal circumstances but it’s supposedly cute here. The Love Bug longs to relive its racetrack glory, which suits Maggie just fine.

Herbie fans should be happy to learn that Fully Loaded is in extremely good hands, and the makers have handled it with more care and affection than it actually merits. The film is fetishistically authentic, down to the score and decorative No. 53 signs on the car. Matt Dillon’s racing champ Trip Murphy is like an update of David Tomlinson’s Peter Thorndyke from the original The Love Bug movie, tempting Maggie with a better racecar in order to sabotage Herbie. As with her debut feature D.E.B.S., director Angela Robinson lends a breezy and fun retro-chic sensibility with split screens and pop-rock songs.

Like most kiddie fables, Fully Loaded features some well-worn classic themes and morals about believing in oneself, not taking things for granted, etc. Even though Lohan doesn’t entirely flesh her out, Maggie is an interesting character who first succumbs to insecurities and then gradually gains enough confidence to right her wrongs. Racing is integral to a successful Herbie film as it plays up the underdog allure of a zebra running on a horse track. Cameo appearances from Jimmie Johnson, Jeff Gordon, Dale Jarrett, Tony Stewart and Allen Bestwick boost the film’s credibility considerably, but rookie Danica Patrick’s strong showing at last month’s Indy 500 actually makes it timely.

Reprinted from WestEnder. © Copyright 2005 Martin Tsai. All rights reserved.