Herbie the Love Bug, the Volkswagen Bug who has starred in five theatrical flicks and one TV movie. I grew up watching Herbie movies and recently caught up with the only entry I'd never seen before, 2005's Herbie: Fully Loaded.
With a college degree under her arm and a job as an assistant producer at ESPN waiting for her in a few weeks, Maggie Peyton (Lindsay Lohan) gets a graduation present from her Dad, Ray (Michael Keaton). The Peytons are a third generation racing family with Ray working as team owner and crew chief, his son the team's lead driver. Maggie has always wanted to get into racing but a past street racing incident ended that dream. Now, she'll have to settle for this present from her Dad, a beat-up looking 1963 Volkswagen Bug named Herbie that certainly looks well past its prime. This is not any old VW Bug though, something Maggie figures out immediately. Herbie has a mind of his own and Maggie and her mechanic friend, Kevin (Justin Long), think they can rehab the car and build it back up into a worthy racing car. They could be in for some trouble when cocky Nascar champ Trip Murphy (Matt Dillon) gets on their bad side and he wants nothing more than to take Herbie apart.
I love Herbie. I loved the original The Love Bug growing up, and I still love it now. I really like the second sequel Herbie Goes to Monte Carlo, and.....yes, I can sit through the generally pretty bad Herbie Rides Again and Herbie Goes Bananas. I never intentionally avoided this 2005 quasi-reboot, but I never actively sought it out. From director Angela Robinson, 'Loaded' isn't great and it isn't awful. The story is a bit of a rework of The Love Bug (how Herbie gets into racing) and Monte Carlo (Herbie in love) with an occasional tweak here and there. It made a ton of money -- $140-plus million -- in theaters and is innocent enough fun. If it isn't necessarily good, it does the Herbie character and franchise right.
Remember back in 2005 when Lindsay Lohan was a sure-fire star? She seemed destined to be a legit huge star following 2004's massively successful Mean Girls before some personal problems ranging from addiction to plastic surgery and assorted other things did their best to derail her career. You can't call her a great actress, but she is a good actress, natural and likable here. The rumor mill says that Disney Studios digitally reduced Lohan's breasts on-screen so that's pretty crazy if you think about it. Now all that said...the story does seem to be an excuse to doll Lohan up and put her in all sorts of tight, low-cut and mini-skirt options. Not a complaint, just an observation.
There is a decent cast on hand here so that definitely helps. Along with Michael Keaton as Maggie's Dad, there's Breckin Meyers as her race car driving brother and Cheryl Hines as one of the few remaining sponsors for the Peyton racing team. Justin Long gets romance duty, the shaggy haired mechanic working with Maggie who maybe...just maybe may end up with her. Tough part, huh? Backing up the geared-up Dillon as our evil villain, Trip, there's Jimmi Simpson as his goofy assistant, Crash, and Thomas Lennon (who also helped write the story and screenplay) as his manager/brother. Also look for Scoot McNairy briefly as a member of the pit crew. Some familiar parts from an after school special, but there's some talent on display.
Enough with all that garbage though. What about Herbie? Through the wonders of computer-generated images, Herbie is a little more anthropomorphic as we meet him. The former racing champion, Herbie the VW Bug has fallen on hard times and is rescued from the junk heap by Maggie. Can he reacquire his magic? The iconic visual is there, the white Bug with the red and blue stripe up his middle with the soft-cover top and the instantly recognizable '53' painted on his hood and side. His headlights are his eyes, his front hood his mouth, that sort of thing. We do get some crazy CGI moments that are a tad bit on the goofy side, but that's part of the Disney charm (albeit with better graphics). There is a fun scene late where Herbie gets "analyzed" by Nascar champions and fan favorites Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson so stick with it through that. Also look for Tony Stewart, and Dale Jarrett.
Now I do have one kinda major complaint? If you ask me at least. The opening credits show a montage of Herbie racing clips from the previous movies. Yes, he's fallen on hard times and basically abandoned as a parts car. As he makes his triumphant return, NO ONE remembers him. NO ONE. How forgetful can people be? Yes, I know I'm overanalyzing a movie that's intended to be entertaining and fun with some cool racing scenes. But come on now, how can no one recognize this car?!? It's a VW Bug who can hold his own with Nascar cars and souped-up street racers. WHY DOES NO ONE QUESTION THIS? WHY DOES NO ONE REMEMBER THIS LITTLE CAR? Okay, breathe...breathe, I got that out of my system. Herbie fans should like it. I certainly did in a dumbed down revisit sort of way.
Herbie: Fully Loaded (2005): ** 1/2 /****