Maybe it's due to larger transportation vessels of old getting personal names, but Americans - at least of previous generations - seemed to enjoy naming their cars. Of course, that also could have been from spending so much time in them and dealing with their temperamental behavior.
In 1969, Disney turned that notion into the surprise hit of the year, "The Love Bug." Featuring Dean Jones, Michele Lee and Buddy Hackett, the film really starred a vintage VW Bug that literally had a mind of its own, resulting in all sorts of comedic shenanigans that particularly entertained younger viewers.
In yet the latest example of mining former releases, Disney returns to its vaults with "Herbie: Fully Loaded," a contemporary remake of that nearly 40-year-old film. It's been at least 30 or so laps around the track since I last saw the original picture or its various sequels, so comparisons are useless beyond recalling that I enjoyed the film as a kid.
The same may end up occurring for today's youngsters with this release that's something of a loose sequel, but older viewers may find the revamped shenanigans trying their patience at best. Director Angela Robinson, working from a script penned by four scribes, gets the back story out of the way during the opening credits by showing the original Herbie's rise and then fall from fame as a racing champion.
The story then proceeds to follow a course that's surprisingly similar to this year's earlier, kid-based, underdog racing film, "Racing Stripes." There's a girl - that being Lindsay Lohan - who adopts a competitive runt -- that can't possibly compete against the "big boys" -- and then wants to race him.
Yet dear old dad, not wanting to lose her like he did his wife, forbids her from competing, even when their combo seems the only choice and chance for their family's flailing racing team. Throw in a pompous villain - this time Matt Dillon rather than Wendie Malick in that other film - and toss all rules of logic out the window - such as a VW Bug competing in a NASCAR event rather than a zebra in a thoroughbred horse race - and you essentially have the same flick.
Rather than having the talking animal angle from the previous effort, however, we have Herbie. And while he doesn't talk, his headlights blink and his fender bends to show his other emotions. While that may have seemed cool way back before the advent of computer-generated effects, it seems downright antiquated if not stale here, much like most of the film's attempts at humor.
Considering that, criticism of problems with logic might as well be tossed out the window. While kids may enjoy the related shenanigans, the filmmakers don't show much imagination or creativity in getting the bug in and out of trouble. The best they can muster is the bug whacking bad characters with parts of his car body (thus meeting the slapstick quota) and then a big set piece at a demolition derby that seems as dated as the original Love Bug film.
The biggest stretch of believability is when Herbie competes toe to toe, um, fender to fender, with NASCAR's greatest fuel guzzling, high output engines. Even in their day, non-modified bugs could barely keep up with regular traffic, let alone stock cars, but then again, this is a fantasy.
Speaking of which, the most interesting thing about the picture is seeing star Lindsay Lohan in her old physical look before her recent transformation into too skinny to be healthy Hollywood reality. While the picture was shot before that transformation, that fact could make the film more interesting by having viewers try to notice any signs of the pending emaciation.
As far as her role, Lohan is likable enough in it, but it's certainly no match for her comedic talent earlier displayed in "Mean Girls," "Freaky Friday," or heck, even "The Parent Trap." Her costars don't fare any better. Michael Keaton is wasted as her dad; Matt Dillon never transcends his character's cartoon villainy; Breckin Meyer continues his trend of appearing in mediocre to bad films; and the rest - including Justin Long as Lohan's potential love interest - are instantly forgettable.
As is the film pretty much for anyone older than, oh - I don't know, the age of 10 (your individual results may vary). "Herbie: Fully Loaded" rates as a 4 out of 10.