Herbie: Fully Loaded

If you have the slightest interest in the lives and times of Young Hollywood, you’ve probably come across the worrisome pictures of the new-look Lindsay Lohan. Miles away from her former voluptuous self, Lohan, now with blonde hair, looks disturbingly thin and in need of several good meals. Where is the fleshy, busty, healthy-looking beauty who was one of GQ’s hottest covers ever in October 2004 ? If we are to believe the reports, and the pictures indicate we should, she’s down to 100-some pounds from 140 pounds a year ago, yet journalists were forbidden from asking about the weight loss during the junket for her latest film, “Herbie: Fully Loaded”. The film was shot in the second half of 2004, so at least we get a much better-looking Lindsay in comparison to her current appearance.

This is the third Disney remake for Lohan, after the cute but forgettable “Parent Trap” and the surprisingly good “Freaky Friday”. “Fully Loaded”, which brings back the Volkswagen Bug with a mind of its own that the studio first introduced in 1969 with “The Love Bug”, is enjoyable enough and directed with unquestionable energy by Angela Robinson (D.E.B.S.), but it remains lightweight stuff with its share of weaknesses.

After “Confessions of a Teenage Drama Queen”, Lohan had a star-making turn in the well-written “Mean Girls”, after which (and because of which) the authenticity of her ample chest became a matter of national interest. There have been internet reports, regarding “Fully Loaded”, that Disney digitally reduced the star’s chest size because it supposedly distracted from the story during the final scenes at a racetrack. I found the whole thing suspicious but possible, coming from a company (and a country) prone to puzzling puritanical decisions. Upon viewing the big screen evidence (someone’s gotta do it), I don’t know, people. Those racing outfits really tend to be great equalizers in the breast size department. If there really was digital downsizing, it would be tough to see the point because Lohan spends a great deal of the film in curves-friendly t-shirts or in a black mini-skirt which makes her appear taller than her 5’5’’ frame.

Lohan plays Maggie Peyton, the daughter of Ray Peyton Sr., a former NASCAR champ played by Michael Keaton (Breckin Meyer is Maggie’s brother, a race driver, in a role and performance that barely registers). In a bit of a stretch age-wise, Maggie has just graduated from college and seems headed to New York to work at ESPN as a producer. But things change when her dad offers to buy her a car to be rescued from a junkyard as a graduation present (at least that’s how I understood it since the story, credited through various wording to a bunch of people, doesn’t always bother with clear explanations for what’s happening or why). Herbie is chosen, and soon Maggie finds a cryptic message in the Bug’s glove compartment saying that if she treats it well, “whatever the problem is, Herbie will help you find the answer”. This might lead one to believe that Herbie will reveal the meaning of life, publish a self-help book or solve complex mathematical equations, with the secret of the Caramilk thrown in for good measure, but the darn thing is more interested in inflicting all manners of innocuous harm on whoever puts it down, magically swinging its hood or sending oil somebody’s way.

But somehow, Maggie starts caring about the car, and we later get to some sort of regional gathering where we meet hotshot pilot Trip Murphy (Matt Dillon, having fun with a mildly arrogant baddie), who’s beaten by Herbie in an impromptu street race. After various happenings, Herbie is abandoned and lost to Murphy, which leads to Maggie rescuing it from a demolition derby in the film’s most exciting sequence. More zany developments will take Herbie to a NASCAR race with Maggie behind the wheel, a plotline that also wraps up a half-hearted subplot about Ray Sr. being overprotective of his daughter. Justin Long is in there as Maggie’s love interest, but every time he was being wide-eyed about something, I couldn’t stop thinking of that catchy chorus from this horror film he was in: Jeepers, creepers… where d’you get those peepers? Another weakness is that the connection between Maggie and Herbie is never explored in any way that would tell us why one is so important to the other.

It may seem like a lot of things bothered me a little, but I still enjoyed the film. I often value the presence of popular or simply neat songs in movies, and this one makes fun use of tunes from Van Halen, The Beach Boys and Lionel Richie, for example. Lohan and Dillon play their characters well, and the final race is cool even though the outcome is never in doubt. Consider Herbie a bit better than half-loaded.

Review by Jean-François Tremblay