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  • Writer's pictureCollin Souter

eFilmcritic Archive: "Herbie Fully Loaded" (2006)

I remember when I was 10 years old or so (early ‘80s), my mom dropped my friend and I off at some rec center where they showed “The Love Bug” for free. The adults basically sat all of us rowdy kids on a floor mat in a gymnasium and showed the movie on a white blanket hanging on the wall. We all hated it. The characters were stupid, the car didn’t do anything cool until the end and we just felt cheated. Sure, the free popcorn tasted good, but we started wondering if the parents in the neighborhood collectively decided to punish all of us. This memory lends itself to absolutely nothing other than reminding me of what horrible movies they geared towards kids in the ‘60s and ‘70s .

Honestly, nothing’s changed and I’m not surprised they dug out old Herbie for a retro fit. It’s cute, safe, harmless and you can do a lot with the CG effects. Kind of a no-brainer that it would happen. Still, I can’t help but wonder if I’m supposed to feel a sense of misty-eyed nostalgia when “Herbie: Fully Loaded” opens with a sequence consisting of scenes from all those awful movies. It’s like when you’re drinking with one of your best friends and he brings up that embarrassing incident of seeing the lost and forgotten “Earthbound” at the Prospect Cinema when you were kids.

“Thanks a lot,” you’d say. “I had successfully erased that movie from my memory banks until you brought it up. Now, go sit over there and leave me in peace.”

Fortunately, “Herbie: Fully Loaded” probably won’t leave those kinds of scars on today’s youngins. For the most part, it has a likable cast and has a pleasant nature. It also relies on boing! sound effects and pratfalls as a way of winning over the high-brow intellect of its audience. In other words, kids will probably like it okay. This time, Herbie has more personality, more features, a voice and an engine straight out of “The Fast and the Furious,” making him more palatable to today’s rec center-bound rugrats, unless of course they have a taste for “Howl’s Moving Castle,” in which case they can skip this endeavor entirely.

In this film, we’re meant to believe that Lindsay Lohan’s character, Maggie Peyton, has just graduated college and landed a job at ESPN (Lohan is 18, for those keeping score). Before Maggie heads off into the real world (something the real Lohan has all but abandoned), she lets her widowed father (Michael Keaton) buy her a new car. They go to a scrap yard and Maggie becomes the unwitting owner of this possessed car. Imagine the psycho-sexual possibilities if this chick had picked out Stephen King’s Christine instead.

Anyway. As Maggie drives the car around, she notices that it likes to drive itself. It also escapes everyone’s attention that this car likes to open doors on its own, squirt oil on its own, smile, grumble and wink its headlights. All of Herbie’s antics eventually put Maggie in a tough spot when the smug superstar race car driver Trip Murphy (Matt Dillon) gets his car scratched by the Love Bug. This results in a challenge by Trip to race the little Bugger in front of hundreds of cheering Trip fans.

You can see where this is going, right? Herbie wins and because Maggie wore a race suit and helmet, nobody knows it’s her behind the wheel. Naturally, she has to lie about this to her father and insist that her old friend/love interest Kevin (Justin Long) did the racing. Herbie becomes a star, Trip gets more hot and bothered and everyone becomes enamored by this new mysterious racer who goes by the name of Max. Who is Max? Where did he come from? How come nobody notices this guy looks pretty well-stacked?

Speaking of which, there has been a rumor spreading lately that a preview audience took a disliking to Miss Lohan’s physique, claiming that she looks too voluptuous for a Disney family film. Supposedly, the special effects gurus did some digital maneuvering to give her a more family friendly breast size. I can’t make this up, but someone out there did, because it’s not true. Trust me. She’s all there.

It might have made more sense to do it, if for no other reason than to better serve the annoying “mysterious identity” sub-plot, but like I said before, whatever, it’s a Herbie movie. Too innocuous to hate and not special enough to recommend. Lohan still has the charm and natural movie star quality. Dillon excels at the typical bad guy role. Keaton got a nice check and Breckin Meyer, who plays Maggie’s brother, can still take up space. Everyone shows up and takes a backseat to the car, which I admit, is cute. Director Angela Robinson keeps things moving quickly and the race scenes look fine. That’s really about all I can say.

Except that I wish I had more of a memory of the old Herbie movies enough to say whether or not this holds up with them or improves upon them. Probably the latter. I don’t know. Do the Herbie movies have a special place in anybody’s hearts? I guess so. Maybe. Uh-huh, sure. When I watched them as a kid, they all seemed three hours too long. I guess in a couple years, this one will hold up okay, because if nothing else you can be certain Disney will spew out numerous straight-to-video sequels, which will screen nicely in your local community rec center prison camp. Enjoy the popcorn.

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