Herbie: Fully Loaded Movie Review

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Every time Lindsay Lohan and Disney join forces to updatea kiddie movie from the studio's slap-dash period of the 1960s and '70s,they've come away with a winner.

1998's remake of "The Parent Trap" showed a savvy sense of humorwhere the original was merely cutesy-poo. 2003's hilarious "FreakyFriday" expanded on its predecessor's body-swapconcept to hit the nail on the head of mother-daughter relationships. Nowcomes "Herbie: Fully Loaded," a witty and creative follow-upto the dumb but endearing "Love Bug" movies about a race-crazyVolkswagen Beetle that comes to life.

Lohan plays fresh college grad Maggie, a speed demon groundedfrom racing by her struggling NASCAR-driver father (Michael Keaton) aftera bad crash in an illegal street race. For her graduation present, Daddytakes her to a junkyard to pick out a fixer-upper car, and she reluctantlychooses a rusty 1963 Volkswagen Beetle with a forgotten history and waymore personality than Maggie bargained for. The moment Maggie turns thekey in Herbie's ignition, the little Bug takes off like an excited puppy-- with his passenger screaming her head off -- and the pair end up ata backwoods body shop where Herbie gets a make-over and Maggie gets a loveinterest (Justin Long).

While looking for parts at a car show, Herbie and Maggiefall into an impromptu street race, which leads to a nitrous-fueled desertshowdown for pink slips, then a demolition derby ("10 cars enter,one car leaves!" chants the crowd in a "Mad Max" tribute)and -- after some serious souping-up with a roll cage, fat tires, a spoiler,and passing mention of a rules loophole -- a shot at NASCAR glory.

Thanks to a clever, subtly subversive script (by a teamthat includes writers from "The State" and "Spider-Man2") and spirited, tongue-in-cheek directionby Angela Robinson ("D.E.B.S.") that pays playful homage to old"Herbie" movies and gets ironic mileage out of 1980s hair-metalsongs, "Fully Loaded" enthusiastically embraces its own absurdityand emerges victoriously fun.

The movie does stumble over a handful of nonsensical plotpoints. If Herbie used to be a famous racecar, as an opening-credits montageimplies, why don't the NASCAR announcers or anyone else recognize him?Robinson also runs into trouble getting that NASCAR finale up to speed.She fails to exploit the improbable juxtaposition of a VW Beetle goingup against $100,000 stock cars and has a hard time tapping into the excitementof the race, so for about five minutes the whole picture threatens to unravel.

But several unexpectedly solid performances keep the movieon the right track. Lohan finds depth in her complex relationship withher dad (Keaton is great too) and humor in her even more complex relationshipwith Herbie. (It cannot be easy to act with convincing emotion oppositea 40-year-old hunk of metal.) Matt Dillon is in his element as the movie'svillain, an arrogant NASCAR superstar whose ire rises every time Herbiebests him.

And although his personality is really just a combinationof jury-rigged parts and CGI tweaks (sometimes taken a tad too far), Herbiehimself is a scene-stealer extraordinaire. From his upturned-bumper smileto his moments of skateboard envy to a cheer-worthy roll-over stunt thatsaves Maggie during the demolition derby (the little car has a protectivevibe), Herbie's charismatic "performance" proves why he's a starwith almost 40 years of staying power.

That probably sounds a little silly coming from an oftencynical movie critic, but "Herbie: Fully Loaded" was such a gas-- and such a pleasant surprise -- that I'm happy to get in the spirit.

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Herbie: Fully Loaded Rating

" OK "

Rating: G, WIDE: Wednesday, June 22, 2005

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