Judge Joel Pearce always wanted a car he could call Ocho.
"You know, for a car, you're not a very good listener"—Maggie
Depending how you look at it, Disney's new Herbie: Fully Loaded is either a miracle or a complete disaster. As a marketing project, it's completely brilliant. As a film, well, it must have looked like a good idea on paper.
Facts of the Case
Maggie Peyton (Lindsay Lohan, Mean Girls) has just graduated college and is ready to head out toward an exciting new life in New York City. She is the daughter of a famous old NASCAR driver (Michael Keaton, Batman), but isn't allowed to drive much since she had an accident during a street race.
All of that quickly changes when she meets Herbie, who somehow ended up on a junk heap after his years of incredible races. Maggie soon realizes that she has purchased a car with a mind of its own (and a bit of an attitude problem). Through a series of coincidences and silly contrivances, she finds herself falling in love with a young mechanic named Kevin (Justin Long, Jeepers Creepers), racing Herbie against evil NASCAR champion Trip Murphy (Matt Dillon, Crash), and taking over the Peyton family legacy from her incompetent brother Ray (Breckin Meyer, Rat Race).
Herbie's marketing wheels are turning so fast, you can practically see them spinning on the screen. Disney's goal with Herbie: Fully Loaded was clearly to aim at as many audiences as possible, then market like mad for an early summer smash hit. To appeal to the teeniebopper set, Lindsay Lohan was cast in the lead role (her presence probably doesn't hurt the film's appeal with teen boys, either). Parents are drawn by some larger names, like Michael Keaton and Matt Dillon. Car enthusiasts ought to appreciate all the cool cars and cameos by some famous racecar drivers. The resurrection of the long-since-deceased Herbie franchise and inclusion of some cameos by original cast members should secure popularity with the older generation that laments the disgraceful developments in film over the last 30 years. Yup, Disney has covered all of their bases with this one.
Well, almost. Somewhere in all the marketing hustle and bustle, they forgot to make a good film. Herbie: Fully Loaded isn't awful, mind you, but it's a throwback to an era of filmmaking that should have landed on a dump heap 30 years ago itself. This film is definitely trying to capture that classic Disney feel, and it doesn't work for several reasons. For one thing, a car that moves on its own no longer dazzles audiences. When the first Herbie movies came out, all of the effects had to be practical, and they were quite creative in making it work. Now, a virtually modeled Herbie can do anything at all and not shock movie audiences. As well, even though oil-squirting humor is about as lowbrow as it gets, making it funny takes a certain finesse and timing. It's a finesse that director Angela Robinson lacks, and the cast has no real sense of comedic timing.
In fact, the cast brings absolutely nothing to the table. Lohan, who proved that she is capable of quite a bit in Mean Girls, generally relies on her smile and good looks to carry her through this production. Michael Keaton mails his performance in from another universe, and could have been replaced by any man over the age of 40. Breckin Meyer has high billing for his 10 minutes of screen time, and Justin Long delivers his lines as though he's gotten lost on an after-school NBC sitcom. Matt Dillon has shown numerous times that he can be a very slimy villain, but his approach is too restricted in a G-rated film. His bad guy has no teeth at all.
At least, I suppose, Herbie: Fully Loaded is a fairly inoffensive way to spend a couple hours with your kids. There are lots of good lessons crammed into every syrupy corner of the script, exploiting that bubblegum girl power motif that's been so prevalent in recent Disney offerings. As usual, the girl power for Maggie is severely limited by the flawed premise. Maggie talks about having racing built into her blood, but she doesn't get to race because of her own skills. The only way she is able to accomplish her racing dreams is through a magical car that does the hard parts for her. Beneath the message that girls can do anything they want, there's also the message that they need to rely on others to accomplish those goals. We know that Maggie wouldn't have a chance against a NASCAR champion in a normal car.
If only the script has as much consistency as it has syrupy Disney morality. Characters wander in and out of scenes without explanation, and the dialogue is as dull as any I have ever seen. I have to wonder why none of the characters—all part of the big racing scene—would have completely forgotten about this perky little Beetle. Hell, we all remember Herbie, and he isn't even real in our universe. The film opens with a sequence showing all the headlines that Herbie has made over the years, but none of the racing professionals are triggered by the 53 on the front hood. Many will respond that it's just a stupid Disney movie, but strong scripting is one of the things that would allow Disney to regain the respect it once had with movie audiences.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
As unimpressed as I am with Herbie: Fully Loaded, I have to admit that Disney has delivered a high quality DVD. The video quality is stunning, with no noticeable flaws or errors. The sound is great too, offering up a clean, well-mixed Dolby 5.1 track. The extras are appropriate for the content of the film, centering on a number of bloopers and deleted (thank goodness) scenes. There's also a section entitled "music and more," which actually only contains a single Lindsay Lohan music video. I watched part of it. There are a few featurettes as well, trying to get a younger generation excited about NASCAR racing. Last up is a commentary with Angela Robinson, who gushes about the film a lot.
It doesn't really matter what I say about Herbie: Fully Loaded here. It has already done well, and will continue to do well on DVD. If your kids want to watch it with you, know that you could do a lot worse. It is mild, harmless entertainment. I just wish that more family film producers could accomplish something greater more often, especially with the kind of budget that gets pumped into these productions. Ultimately, it's a completely empty, vacuous product, carefully crafted to make lots and lots of money. Art and creativity have nothing to do with it.
Herbie: Fully Loaded isn't guilty, but the Disney execs really need to start taking a risk occasionally. You never know, maybe they could make some decent movies again.
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Scales of Justice
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