Like its star – the Volkswagen, I mean – this deluxe retread of 1968’s The Love Bug
is sort of annoying, and it doesn’t do what you want it to do, but you know, it’s so scrappy and persistent that it seems kind of cute in spite of itself. It keeps hitting you in the butt with its doors and squirting motor oil in your face, and you should really hate it for that. A tag team of special effects companies has transformed #53 from the low-tech, fast-motion automotive hero of Dean Jones’ hippy-dippy Disney comedy franchise into the cinematic equivalent of a talking Chevron collectible car – yes, Herbie has eyebrows now – and that’s really not okay. Yet I can’t believe I’m about to say this: Herbie: Fully Loaded
is not altogether bad. It is not a landmark achievement for anyone involved in its manufacture and execution (even Dillon, who’s perfectly watchable as the film’s beetle-browed villain, a pompous pro racer in love with celebrity endorsement, seems to be sleepwalking toward the end) but it is not altogether bad. Like most general-audience studio fare for the summer months, it was written by perhaps 13 or 14 different people who have imbued their characters with kiddie-pool depth and quick-marched them through their boring narrative paces with regimental precision. (As the Concerned But Proud Dad Who Has a Third-Act Change of Heart, Keaton is as riveting and dynamic to watch as a Crock-Pot.) But there’s an offbeat energy bubbling under the surface of this movie, and it adds an element of playfulness and anarchy to the proceedings. Robinson imports the supporting cast from her debut feature, last year’s weird lesbian-schoolgirl-secret agent comedy D.E.B.S.
(What, you didn’t see D.E.B.S.
?) We have an airhead best friend (Ritchie) who arrives from out of nowhere in the middle of the film (ostensibly she’s been in France), and Simpson almost steals the movie as Dillon’s glad-handing corporate sidekick. There’s also that Lohan girl, with her digitally reduced breasts, and the film asks little more of her than to run around in distressed ringer T-shirts and intermittently squawk, "Herbie!" in her crackly girl-next-door way. (Note to parents: Lohan’s miniskirts are still gynecological in length.) If you are the optimistic sort, you could make some kind of point about the championing of the underdog and the satirizing of sports sponsorship, and isn’t it kind of great how the little fuel-efficient import smokes those big old farty Detroit muscle machines because it’s got heart
? And then Robinson goes all crazy with the horizontal wipes and the split screens, and the crew gets together for a montage in the repair shop, and gee whiz, we’ll have this car ready for the Big Race somehow! The movie is savvy enough to toy with these conventions and wacky enough to take a few risks, and it adds up to a fair enough matinee diversion, much like its predecessor.