To damn Herbie: Fully Loaded as soporific crap, as lazy profiteering, as yet another needless and cynical remake in a season populated by such swindles, would be as pointless as the movie itself. If you had hope for it at all, you're either a Walt Disney executive or Gordon Buford, author of the story Car-Boy-Girl, which birthed five previous features, including 1969's The Love Bug, the 1997 made-for-TV redo with Bruce Campbell in the Dean Jones role, and a short-lived TV series. The rest of the world waited for another Love Bug movie as much as it anticipates one more Charlie Chan offering and perhaps yet another Facts of Life reunion movie.
The plot provides the slightest, most imperceptible variation on its predecessors: Herbie, once more lifted off the scrap heap, winds up in the hands of a race-car driver (Lindsay Lohan, before she dyed her hair unnaturally blond and dieted her physique nauseatingly skeletal) in need of a miracle machine that can save the family business and her would-be career. Lohan, as Maggie Peyton, comes from a long line of racing greats, including the father (played by Batman Michael Keaton, groan) who won't let his little girl into the cockpit. Instead, he's pushing her off to New York, where she's set to begin a career at ESPN -- owned, of course, by Disney, in but one of myriad examples of product placement in a movie that's more like a 92-minute advertisement for everything ever made, bought, or sold.
But Maggie's li'l Love Bug and love interest Justin Long see to it that Maggie beats all comers, including NASCAR hot shot Trip Murphy (Drugstore Cowboy Matt Dillon, groan again) and, eventually, Jeff Gordon and Dale Jarrett. This, however, comes after what can only be described as the most inexplicable plot twist ever to appear in a Disney movie -- Herbie's suicide attempt, which involves him throwing a race, winding up in the possession of Trip, and getting tossed into a demolition derby, where he does nothing to fend off his inevitable doom until Maggie shows up at the last second to rescue his German-manufactured ass. Apparently, parents at test screenings were livid over Lohan's low-cut tops and generous cleavage, prompting Disney to digitally alter her wardrobe and bust, but had no problem with a plot point that involved a sentient being, or whatever, trying to off itself. I believe it was Don Knotts, in Herbie Goes to Monte Carlo, who put it best, when he asked of Xavier Saint-Macary, "What the fuck is wrong with people anyway?"
One could look at the roster of talent and ask the same question. Once more, after The Pacifier and Taxi, screenwriters Ben Garant and Thomas Lennon lose a little more of that goodwill engendered by the fact that they created and star in Reno 911!; given their involvement with three movies containing no laughs among them, I am beginning to remember why I thought their sketch-comedy show The State was so miserable so long ago. (Alfred Gough and Miles Millar, responsible for the respectable Smallville and the reprehensible Showtime, also share credit. Why, I have no idea.) Dillon, seen just weeks ago in the remarkable Crash, doesn't even try to hide the fact that he's here to pick up a briefcase of cash (it's doubtful whether Disney even bothered cutting the check); he hasn't done this little acting onscreen since the Madonna "Bad Girl" video. As for Lohan, this is her third Disney remake and the worst of the trio -- the Saturday-morning hangover after a Freaky Friday.
Keaton's involvement is more of a mystery, right up there with the pyramids and the fact that there are people who willingly eat tongue sandwiches. His has been a career in remission for years, since long before he played a talking snowman in the abominable Jack Frost; White Noise, released at the beginning of the year, was but a tip of the iceberg that sank his Titanic. He does have an extraordinary performance in a respectable new film, Michael Hoffman's Game 6, but that Sundance charmer has yet to find a distributor. Instead, we get Keaton as Lohan's father, in a role slightly between that of cameo and "special guest." No wonder every time he shows up, he looks like he's been hit not by a Volkswagen, but a Peterbilt.