Herbie Fully Loaded
It's not your father's Volkswagen.
Herbie, known as The Love Bug in his film debut back in 1968, has been overhauled, giving him a new and improved animated personality. He's also traded in the likes of Dean Jones, Buddy Hackett and Michele Lee for the more contemporary co-star slate of Lindsay Lohan and Justin Long, who act as driver, mechanic, and comic relief.
Lohan plays Maggie Peyton, daughter of racing team owner Ray Peyton (Michael Keaton). The Peyton family has been racing cars for years, but lately the checkered flag has not been in their windshield. Her brother, Ray Jr. (Breckin Meyer), one of their primary drivers, has been experiencing a run of bad luck that has left the team on the verge of being disqualified by the officials.
Maggie used to be part of the family business too, until a tragedy left her father apprehensive about letting her go out on the track. To appease her desire for wheels, and as a college graduation gift, Dad takes his daughter to a junkyard where she can select an old car to fix up and use for everyday travel. Eying many of the dusty models, the classic VW suddenly falls into her heart--and on top of the Nissan she was previously considering.
Excited to have found a new owner, the precocious Bug steers Maggie to the nearest repair shop where she meets Kevin (Long), a mechanic who immediately becomes attached to Herbie and recognizes his potential.
The little car with a mind of its own also has greater aspirations than being an errand vehicle. When an opportunity presents itself, it drives Maggie into the middle of a racing challenge with the egotistical Trip Murphy (Matt Dillon), and leaves the famous NASCAR champion in the dust. Unwilling to admit defeat to such a humble contender, Murphy determines to find some way to beat the Bug, even if it means having the perky automobile permanently parked.
Thanks to the magic of Disney digital effects, Herbie sports winking headlight covers and a smiling, flexible front bumper, making his the only performance in this movie that's firing on all cylinders. Unfortunately, his human cohorts don't shine as well. This is especially true for Lohan, whose mediocre delivery is upstaged by her physical "talents," thanks to the film's creators' decision to showcase the actress in one too-tight t-shirt after another.
Otherwise, the movie presents only a few other content concerns for families, such as a couple of scenes involving unsanctioned street racing--an illegal activity. While the very youngest viewers may be worried when Herbie faces a near death experience in a demolition derby, boys in the audience are more likely to groan when a budding romance with a much younger Volkswagen begins to develop, along with growing admiration between Maggie and Kevin.
Perhaps the best part of seeing the little car back on the big screen will be the chance for parents to share their fondness for this franchise with their kids. The soundtrack is full of popular music, which spans three decades (including that cheesy, yet memorable theme song from Herbie's first outing). Although this new Love Bug is running a little low on the charm that infused the original movie, his heart is still able to race circles around a whole new generation of Herbie-vores.