Dir: Angela Robinson. US.2005. 95mins.
The latest in a gradualrecycling programme of Disney's back catalogue (after Flubber, The ParentTrap, Freaky Friday), Herbie: Fully Loaded is an effective familypicture which will be a big hit for the studio in the US - where it opens onJune 22 - and one likely to start a new series of pictures about the loveableVW Bug.
The character spawned fouroriginal theatrical features, starting with The Love Bug in 1969, andseveral other TV films and series. In reinventing it for today's more demandingyoung audience, Disney hired a hip director in Angela Robinson, whose debutfilm lesbian spy adventure DEBS was a modest hit earlier this year, anda star in Lindsay Lohan who attracts both young children and teenagers.
International numbers mightnot be so impressive based on the fact that Lohan's celebrity hasn't yetreached the dizzy heights overseas it has in the US, not to mention the highlyparochial setting of the NASCAR racing circuit. BVI is counting on the fact thatthe old-fashioned appeal of a car with heart can never be underestimated.
Lohan, a veteran of Disneyremakes after The Parent Trap and Freaky Friday, plays MaggiePeyton, a third-generation NASCAR race driver who has been forbidden frompursuing her dreams by her overprotective father Ray (Keaton) who fears for hersafety on the track.
Instead Maggie has plans tomove to New York and pursue a career in journalism after she graduates fromcollege, but first she has to spend the summer at home in California and Rayoffers to buy her a used car to run around in.
Enter Herbie aka #53, thebug with a mind and feelings of its own which has had numerous triumphs on therace track (as we witness in a montage over the credits) but now sits awaitingdemolition in a junkyard.
Maggie reluctantly choosesthe Bug and takes it to an old school-friend and mechanic Kevin (Long) whoagrees to soup it up. However, before either of them can get to work on it,Maggie, wearing a helmet that conceals her identity, and Herbie have inadvertentlygot into a racing bout with arrogant NASCAR champion Trip Murphy (Dillon).
When Herbie wins toeveryone's amazement, Murphy determines to stage a race contest and beat theBug.
Of course Herbie eventuallymakes it to the NASCAR championship race after Maggie has betrayed him, thenrescued him from a demolition derby and confronted her father with her trueidentity as Herbie's driver.
Robinson brings acontemporary visual energy to the film without tinkering with Herbie himselfwhose clunky 1960s-style effects remain intact and endearing.
Lohan also possesses a sparkthat keeps the film's decidedly routine storyline lively and she showsadmirable comic skills interacting with her inanimate co-star. It's a mark ofthe studio's considerable investment in the new Herbie that talented actorslike Matt Dillon and Michael Keaton are also in the cast, bringing a level ofclass to Fully Loaded, which serve to elevate it above the norm.
Robert Simonds Productions
Walt Disney Pictures
Thomas Lennon & Robert Ben Garant
Alfred Gough & Miles Millar
from a story by Lennon & Garant and
Mark Perez, and based on characters
created by Gordon Buford
Wendy Greene Bricmont