|Herbie - Fully Loaded|
|Written by Paul Lingas|
|Tuesday, 25 October 2005|
“Herbie: Fully Loaded” revisits the long-loved but long-lost Disney franchise about Herbie, the lovable 1963 VW Bug with a mind and heart of its own. Who better to revive this franchise than modern-day Disney staple Lindsay Lohan?
The film begins with Maggie Peyton’s (Lohan) graduation from college. Soon to embark on a trip to New York to begin working for ESPN, Lindsay is the youngest member of the Peyton racing family, which includes her father Ray Peyton Sr. (Michael Keaton) and her brother Ray Jr. (Breckin Meyer). Ray Jr. is now handling the driving duties, but due to his many struggles, Team Peyton is losing sponsors. It seems that Maggie was once a pretty good street racer but she has been forbidden to race since she wrapped her car around a tree.
Looking to get her a graduation gift of some kind, Ray Sr. takes Maggie to a junkyard to buy her a new car for the summer. Though she has her eye on a stock car, the now dilapidated but still feisty Herbie does his best to draw her attention and pretty soon Maggie is driving away in the Bug. Or rather, Herbie drives her away, right into the nearby garage of Kevin (Justin Long), a mechanic and high school friend of Maggie’s. Kevin and Maggie slowly rekindle their friendship and Herbie, behaving for all intents and purposes like a demon-possessed vehicle, drives them to a local car show. Here Maggie and Kevin run into various old racing buddies and, of course, Trip Murphy (Matt Dillon), the current NASCAR champion. Maggie slowly comes to realize that Herbie is a very special car, but in her eagerness to get away from it initially, she accidentally challenges Trip to a street race. Displaying the muscle of a stock car and the agile moves of a Formula One piece, Herbie wins the race, much to the delight of Maggie and Kevin and to the intense dismay of Trip.
Trip is now intent on a rematch and Kevin talks Maggie into participating, though she must hide her racing from her father. The usual montage of getting Herbie ready while Kevin and Maggie become closer ensues. Knowing that Maggie has been forbidden to race by Ray Sr., Trip tricks her into revealing her identity. This, along with a bad bet, causes Herbie to turn against her. Maggie loses the race, her father’s trust and Herbie. Once she comes to her senses and realizes what she’s done, Maggie must rescue Herbie from a demolition derby.
Meanwhile, Ray Jr. has qualified for the California race on the NASCAR circuit, but he also wrecks the car and is unable to race. Kevin, Maggie and Ray Jr. try to convince Ray Sr. to let Maggie drive Herbie. Will Ray Sr. let go of his anger and allow his naturally gifted daughter to race? Will Trip Murphy be thwarted in his bid for the Nextel Cup by a 21-year-old female in a ’63 Bug? Will Maggie and Kevin ever kiss? These questions and more are answered in the rest of the film.
As far as Disney family fare goes, this is a decent movie. It’s cute for the kids and has just enough in the story and performances to keep an accompanying adult amused. Lohan, Keaton, Long, Meyer and Dillon all do a fine job of anchoring the film in reality, while the ebullient Herbie gets to do his thing. As long as you know what you’re getting into, there’s little to complain about. However, you might gripe about the inconsistencies in the plot, especially where Herbie’s motivations are concerned. At one point he gets jealous of another car and decides to teach Maggie a lesson by losing a race, but he knows that he’ll be sold for scrap if he does. So why does he do it? There’s a bunch of talk about Maggie being a jerk and learning her lesson and letting everybody down, but it really makes little sense. It’s as if the “lesson” of the movie was cobbled together out of spare parts from other films and thrown on life support here. Most of the gags are aimed at children and the main plot has huge holes and areas where it’s difficult to suspend one’s disbelief. I can buy that the car is alive, but I can’t buy other things that the filmmakers do.
This is actually a really nice transfer both visually and aurally, with Dolby Digital 5.1 mixes in English, French and Spanish. This is the first DVD I’ve ever seen with three different 5.1 language tracks. I watched a little bit of the French and Spanish tracks and they sound every bit as good as the original English. Of course, image clarity and audio dynamism aren’t really what we’re concerned with in a Herbie movie. If anything, the absolute pristine clarity of the transfer sometimes makes the special effects shots look like, well, special effects shots. What we’re really concerned with is finding out how Herbie does all his crazy stunts.
The special features are adequate here, sufficient for the material but not so in-depth or interesting as to blow us away. There are two main featurettes that discuss the special effects behind many of the stunts Herbie pulls off, as well as the practical effects that were used to animate the car itself, from the headlights to the rear engine hatch. Since Herbie has a life of his own, there were a variety of picture cars made to do different things and “Bringing Herbie to Life” covers many aspects of the animatronics and robotics that went into making the little car smile, wink and frown. While this is important and somewhat interesting information, I sure wouldn’t let my kids see it, because it would take away from the magic of Herbie if they knew every little detail about how the car worked. Better to leave them to their imaginations. “A Day at the Races” gives us some background not only about the cast and film itself, but also about racing on the NASCAR circuit. Director Robinson, Lohan, Meyer and others discuss their experiences working in and around cars and racetracks, and a NASCAR driver leads us through many of the intricacies of racing. It’s a thoughtfully informative way to present the main featurette, since the film and main character have so much to do with cars.
There are quite a few deleted scenes included and, when watching them, one begins to get the sense of just how much of the story was cut out of the final film. I mentioned earlier how there are narrative inconsistencies, and the deleted scenes do a little bit to show just where some of those nagging remnants of story come from. Robinson’s commentary on the deleted scenes misses the target, because she seems not quite ready to talk about each scene. For a second-time director, though, her feature commentary is fair. She gives a lot of behind-the-scenes information, including the heads-up on a few gaffes. The best thing about the commentary is her obvious enjoyment of having done the film. The gem of the bonus features is the bloopers. This is definitely the longest blooper reel I’ve seen, and part of what makes it so good are the inclusion of multiple gags that Lohan’s costars played on her. This had me laughing harder than the movie and will no doubt be enjoyed by all.
In the end, “Herbie: Fully Loaded” is a below-average family movie that fails to recapture the full glory of the “Love Bug” films. A lot of Disney movies have that same problem these days, as the talent and ideals behind their great films of the past seems to have vanished.