More noise than signal

Herbie: Fully Loaded

This review has been ‘repurposed’ from my other site, theOneliner.com

Has, unbeknownst to me, a significant portion of the world’s population been actively crying out for another Herbie film, essentially a remake of the 1968 original The Love Bug? While I’ve no paperwork to back it up, I’ll wager the answer to that is no. Still, that’s what we’ve got, with the dependable Disney mainstay of Dean Jones replaced in this The Fast and The Furious-tinged makeover replaced with the dependable Disney mainstay Lindsay Lohan.

Everyone’s favourite cute and cuddly, demon possessed, cantankerous sentient nightmare of an old-school VW Beetle has fallen on hard times. A losing streak sees him cast onto the scrap yard, facing certain crushing until recent college graduate Maggie Peyton (Lohan) shows up with her NASCAR racing team owner father Ray (Michael Keaton). The clapped out Herbie is picked up for 75 bucks with the intention of providing cheap, honest transport for Maggie as she heads off to New York for a career at ESPN.

Of course, Herbie’s a race car at heart, and would you Adam and Eve it, so’s Maggie. Well, a race car driver at heart, at least. Not that she feels that she’s a Subaru. That would be silly. Oh dear, this paragraph’s sort of fallen apart, hasn’t it? Let’s try another one.

Herbie and Maggie have a shared love of driving really quickly (that’s better!). Sadly, Maggie’s days of street racing came to an abrupt end after a minor accident and major parental argy-bargy. Not that promising to cease and desist this behaviour means anything to our devil-car, tempting and forcing her into a showdown against NASCAR legend Trip Murphy (Matt Dillon). The Satan fuelled VeeDub wins handily, by which point we’ve collected one hero protagonist who must be cajoled into following her dreams of NASCAR success and one villainous archenemy out for revenge. Who’s missing? Ah yes, good natured love interest mechanic Kevin (Justin Long), an old high school friend who agrees to fix up Beelzebub’s runaround with the spares left over from the Fast and Furious franchise.

I’m sure you can fill in the rest for yourself, as perhaps expectedly Herbie: Fully Loaded doesn’t exactly rewrite any movie making paradigms. What it does do rather well is feel like a Herbie film, from the inane slapstick of Herbie hitting people with his doors and spilling oil on nasty people to the occasional acerbic comment from the poor fellow behind Herbie’s wheel recognising the futility of their struggle against The Bug of the Beast.

Which seems to be why a lot of people don’t like it, which is odd. There are lots of valid points to attack it on. There’s little to interest folks outside of the sub-twelve target audience, apart perhaps from the nostalgia factor for the wrinkly, thirty-odds year old parents. It’s an utterly predictable storyline, the race scenes are handled somewhat flat-footedly by director Angela Robinson (veteran of D.E.B.S. and Chickula: Teenage Vampire to which my only response can be ‘?’). The acting, despite the strong cast is somewhat perfunctory although it’s nice to see Michael Keaton in a role that doesn’t utterly suck (Hello, White Noise! Come in, take a seat next to Jack Frost and Multiplicity); the man deserves far more than to be remembered as ‘the guy that was Beetlejuice and Batman then um, little of interest’. Oh yeah, and whoever picked NASCAR as the subject matter has some explaining to do.

NASCAR, for those of you who don’t know, which I imagine to be everyone outside of America, is a sport where stock cars drive round a roundabout in a competition to test skills, ability, mettle and to out-bore Formula 1. Of all the races to pick, why NASCAR? It might be big in the redneck demographic but it’s not going to play as well outside of America’s heartland. Compared to, say, a rally in Monte Carlo or the watching of paint dry, NASCAR contains the high octane excitement of a nice digestive biscuit and a nice cup of Horlicks.

All of which, barring possibly the NASCAR spiel, doesn’t really matter. It’s been designed for young kids, and on that level works very well. Hating a movie that’s specifically marketed for young kids for not appealing to middle aged folks is somewhat akin to disliking Enter the Dragon for having too much kung-fu in it. This doesn’t excuse it these failings, because there’s certainly other examples of kiddy oriented flicks that also appeal to audience elders, but it ought to give one pause when entering into vitriolic diatribes against it for imagined offense to an audience that won’t be watching this anyway.

Rather like Madagascar before it, doling out something as essentially arbitrary as marks out of five becomes problematic. It’s a kids film, and as such marking it down for not being an adults film seems, well, stupid. At the same time because there’s not much to appeal to adults, a category I suppose I belong to in a technical sense at least, I didn’t really enjoy NeoHerbie very much. Not even for the usual ‘Leering at Lohan’, a sport I hope to have ratified for the next Olympics. If you aren’t a child, or aren’t running escort duty for one of them, there’s just no reason to see this film. However, given the type if movie and the marketing for it the thought of seeing it probably hadn’t crossed your mind, making this warning as redundant as the ‘do not drink’ label on a bottle of bleach.