|Herbie: Fully Loaded (2005)
Starring: Lindsay Lohan, Michael Keaton, Justin Long, Breckin Myer, Matt Dillon, Cheryl Hines
Director: Angela Robinson
Disney is going to take some detailed notes on the experience of making “Herbie: Fully Loaded.” Their star, 18 year-old Lindsay Lohan, was making what everyone knew would be her last movie for Disney, and in her defense, she honored the contract of indentured servitude that her parents sold her into. To say she was accommodating, however, would be stretching the truth a tad. Lohan partied nonstop during filming, and her sudden, er, growth spurt so rattled the Disney brass that they had to address it in post, digitally shrinking her rack and raising her necklines.
The lesson that they should take away from this experience is that there are times when talent is simply not worth the hassle. “Herbie: Fully Loaded” is no better because it stars Lohan, but it is occasionally worse, since she looks exhausted half the time. Truth be told, it’s hard to believe Disney insisted that Lohan make this G-rated movie, once her hard partying reputation began to precede her. Was Alexis Bledel unavailable?
Lohan stars as Maggie Peyton, a former street racer who’s off to New York (the movie’s biggest implausibility is not a living car, but making the 18 year-old Lohan a college graduate) to start a job behind the scenes at ESPN. Her father Ray (Michael Keaton) and brother Ray Jr. (Breckin Meyer) run a NASCAR team, but they’ve hit a rough spot – Ray Jr. isn’t quite the racing natural that Ray Sr. or Maggie are - and are losing sponsorships left and right. Ray won’t even think of letting Maggie behind the wheel, not since she wrapped a car around a tree and spent two weeks in the hospital.
As a graduation present, Ray brings Maggie to a scrap yard, and tells her to pick out a car. Herbie, collecting dust in the back, spots her and is smitten, but she has eyes for a faster car…until Herbie makes sure the other car suffers an unfortunate accident. Maggie buys Herbie, and instantly learns of his personality, as Herbie drives her straight to the garage of Kevin (Justin Long), a mechanic and old flame of Maggie’s. The two of them fix Herbie up, and before you know it, Maggie’s racing Herbie anonymously, and beating studs like the NASCAR weasel Trip Murphy (Matt Dillon) in a street race. Let the miraculous comeback begin.
The timing of “Herbie” couldn’t be better, thanks to the sudden emergence of Danica Patrick. The movie’s script, however, could be. Even after a polish from “State” and “Reno 911” veterans Thomas Lennon (who co-stars as Trip Murphy’s brother) and Ben Garant, the movie plows through a by-the-numbers plot rather humorlessly. Keaton’s comedic abilities, for one, are wasted in a role that requires him to be a hard-ass, overprotective warden of a father. Even the parts that could have been funny, like Lohan telling Herbie that a newer model Bug is “too young for you,” (insert your own Lohan joke here) suffer due to sloppy editing. Lohan’s appearance doesn’t help matters either; she looks haggard/hung over in every other shot.
The oddest, and oddly beguiling, thing about “Herbie” is that its backwardness is a virtue. Pixar has shown that kids can handle clever. “Herbie,” on the other hand, doesn’t seem to acknowledge that any change in family movies has taken place since “The Love Bug” debuted in 1968. In fact, its staunch refusal to acknowledge the present (a point nailed home by its ‘70s/’80s classic rock soundtrack) actually works in its favor, though only to a point. Stories these days, even the ones in kid’s movies, need more character depth than the Villain, the Love Interest, the Lackey, the Stubborn Parental Figure, and the Plucky Hero. No one involved in “Herbie” rises above their stock title.
There’s something to be said for not messing with a classic, but it is something else entirely to turn a blind eye to the rapid evolution of family entertainment. “Herbie: Fully Loaded” doesn’t thoroughly ruin the idea of a “Herbie” movie, but doesn’t improve on it, either. That’s about as close to win-win as Disney could ask for, given the circumstances.
The DVD release for “Herbie: Fully Loaded” includes a commentary track with director Angela Robinson, a blooper reel, deleted scenes and three production featurettes including one on stunts and another with female NASCAR racer Deborah Renshaw.