Produced by Robert Simonds
Cast: Lindsay Lohan, Justin Long, Breckin Meyer, Matt Dillon, Michael Keaton, Cheryl Hines, Jill Ritchie.
The Disney live action fantasy Herbie series about a 1963 Volkswagen Beetle with a mind and a personality of its own began in 1968 with The Love Bug directed by Robert Stevenson. That was followed in 1974 by the superbly surreal and absurd Herbie Rides Again with the same director. Subsequent sequels with other directors did not match up, however, nor did a failed TV series in 1997.
For some tired old reason, Disney agreed to resurrect the tired old bug in 2005, with many of the old plots reworked (not very much) and a new spunky and sheepishly surprised young couple, Lindsay Lohan and Justin Long, to be matchmade into happily-ever-after by Herbie’s efforts on the side while he pursues his own proud path. In many respects Herbie contains the quintessential
Enter Maggie Peyton (Lohan), daughter of Ray Peyton (Michael Keaton) and sister of Ray Peyton Jr (Breckin Meyer), the Peyton racing team which has also been losing lately due to Ray Jr’s constant crashes. Maggie is the hidden real racing star, but not allowed to race by Ray Sr for fear of losing her as he lost his wife, her mother, 10 years before. Her graduation present (she arrives at the award ceremony on a skateboard with no time to spare) is a car: one she has to pick out herself from the scrap yard. (Well, it’s a Stock Car-racing-family thing, and anyway it’s only temporary since she’ll soon be heading off to
Her skateboard antics attract Herbie’s interest, and when the Nissan she has her eye on is crushed, she agrees to take Herbie for $50. The only clue to his specialness, since she has unaccountably not seen as we have his wildly flapping doors and hood trying to attract her attention, is a note in the glove compartment. It says: “Please take care of Herbie. Whatever your problem, he’ll help you find the answer.”
Stunned surprise (but no fear) when Herbie takes off with Maggie at the wheel vainly protesting “You’re a car, I drive!” as fast as his bald little wheels can carry him. More surprise and unacknowledged chemistry when Maggie meets Kevin (Justin Long) a mechanic friend who agrees to help her fix Herbie up. Even more surprise when Herbie wins a spontaneous road race against the insufferably egotistical, reigning NASCAR champion Trip Murphy (Matt Dillon), prompting a NASCAR challenge that Herbie and Maggie cannot resist.
You know the rest. Herbie is made-over as a NASCAR racing car. Obstacles include sabotage, outright vandalism, a regrettable bet made by Maggie, dastardly tricks by the jealous Trip, and a detour to a Demolition Derby, where Herbie’s meeting with a Monster Truck is quite funny (and nail-biting – such is the power of identification). Herbie even gets to fall in love with a new model yellow VW Beetle Ikon. Yep.
Lindsay Lohan flashes teeth, long red hair and long legs in very short skirts and high heels (director Angela Robinson last wrote/directed D.E.B.S., the wannabe spoof of Charlie’s Angels with lesbian teens) while Michael Keaton and Matt Dillon act in by-the-numbers fashion. The NASCAR scenes were filmed at California Speedway during pace laps of actual races, and include some of Herbie’s trade-mark surprise winning tactics.
Here’s the formula: magical, super-hero abilities (insert one’s own gamma-ray affected super-power, fairy godmother, angel, anthropomorphic dog, horse, or mysterious magical car) help poor but cute underdog, loser, nerd, has-been and wannabe to beat the moneyed, popular, successful but mean competition, overcome self-doubt and win love and universal respect. Everybody together…………..ahhhhh!
Despite all this sentimental bumf, and maybe helped by the fact that at the screening I attended the parents of the children in the cinema audience were probably too young to have seen Herbie’s first picture The Love Bug and enjoyed the originality of its gags, the eight-to-ten-year-old kids vrooming out after the movie thought Herbie: Fully Loaded was way cool. Which is no doubt the bottom line reasoning behind Disney’s resurrection of the hoary, but cute, old Beetle here in 2005.
© Avril Carruthers 4th June, 2005
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