Film — Herbie: Fully Loaded (G)

 

By Amy Diaz

After what feels like decades of tabloid silliness, Lindsay Lohan reminds us why we liked her back in Mean Girls and Parent Trap with a cute-as-a-Volkswagen performance in Herbie: Fully Loaded.

I have a soft, squishy place in my critic’s heart for movies like Herbie: Fully Loaded. This is a perfect example of a movie that does good, impressive things with a genre that is usually nothing but a barrel of pain. Herbie is, after all, a reimagineering of a 1960s Disney movie. It deals with themes like a girl who follows her dream and a father allowing his daughter to grow up and yet it doesn’t cause the retchy feelings of, say, Racing Stripes. It is solid, from beginning to end — funny in a G-rated way but never cloying. Herbie: Fully Loaded is not a great movie but it is a very good example of its type of movie and as surprising as a horror movie that genuinely gives you chills or a romantic comedy that is actually sexy and funny.

Man, what a relief.

Maggie Peyton (Lohan), husky-ish of voice and slightly on the tomboy side, is a newly minted college graduate and on her way to a snazzy job as an ESPN assistant something-er-other in New York City. But this Riverside girl is all about the So.Cal. car scene, specifically her family’s long tradition of NASCAR racing. A former road-racer, she hungrily eyes her family’s race car and longs to be in her brother Ray’s (Brecken Meyer) place as the team Peyton driver. Her father Ray Sr. (Michael Keaton), however, is having none of it. The only car he wants her in is the junker he buys her as a post-graduation present. The $75 car is meant only to serve as bottom-tier transportation in her month at home before the job starts. But the car Maggie winds up with is a Volkswagen named Herbie who, according to a note left in his glove compartment, can help her solve her problems. Maggie and her car-geek friend Kevin (Justin Long, awkwardly charming as always) fix up the bug just enough for a drive through town — but the bug has other ideas. Emotional, proud and adventure-seeking, Herbie wants to race. The car picks a fight with  arrogant NASCAR racer Trip Murphy (Kevin Dillon) and, after it creams him, gets Maggie interested in racing again.

The movie contains plenty of goofiness — Herbie furrows his grill and spits oil at those he doesn’t like — but it shockingly doesn’t cheat with the humor. It tells a story, an improbable and hokey story, but it sticks to it and uses the talents of its actors without resorting to too much in the way of CGI or big loud pratfalls. And, yes, even Lohan throws off all that tween-diva crap and is just a really solid young actress, something she knows how to do far better than most of her peers.

Herbie: Fully Loaded is not clever in its humor nor does director Angela Robinson try to slip in any subversive ironic tones or messages. It is simply cute and fun and more enjoyable than it appears — which, for a G-rated movie, is actually pretty subversive itself.

 
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