1½ stars (out of four)
The title "Herbie: Fully Loaded" perfectly describes the amount of product placements weighing down Disney's attempt to jump-start an old franchise.
In an era when onscreen advertising is routineeven unobtrusive when done wellthe makers of "Herbie" use every opportunity to stick a parade of Cheetos®, Pepsi®, Dupont®, etc. in your face.
Not only is this supremely distracting, but Disney's hyper-marketing even slows the dialogue as actors struggle to say such things as "Nextel Cup Series" as if they're reading off cue cards held by stern-looking corporate lawyers.
Lindsay Lohan, in her final pre-emaciated outing, makes the best of it as Maggie, a you-go-girl college grad who finds her true calling thanks to a spirited vintage Volkswagen Beetle. On a welcome comeback roll, Michael Keaton plays her dad, Ray Peyton Sr., captain of the Peyton racing team.
After a driving mishap, Ray forbids Maggie from racing, leaving the family legacy to his crash-prone son (Breckin Meyer). After Ray salvages Herbie as a graduation present for Maggie, the rusty little auto initially suffers from a bad case of low self-esteem and self-pity. In Maggie, Herbie finds a new purpose and helps shape her into the driver she's destined to be, even if he has to kidnap her to do it.
Greasy racing champion Trip Murphy (Matt Dillon, enjoying himself) provides the slapstick villain who eats Lohan's dust in what essentially is a 95-minute commercial for NASCAR and its various sponsors, with a throwaway lesson about "the value of honesty."
The original Love Bug movies weren't exactly "Citizen Kane" on wheels, but they had personalitynot to mention the excellent Keenan Wynn as the bullhorn-voiced antagonist in "Herbie Rides Again."
Previous Herbies have always been moody, even manic, but Lohan's vehicle could use some Prozac in the gas tank. The live actors seem to take their cues from the car, with big, bright overacting circa Disney family fare from the 1960s.
Keaton conjures up the only emotionally resonant scene in the film when he confronts Maggie about her secret races with Herbie.
Ray doesn't want her to racenot because she's a girl or because of her previous crashbut because Maggie is the spitting image of his departed wife, and he can't bear to lose her twice.
Though "Herbie: Fully Loaded" relies heavily on computer-graphics wizardry, director Angela Robinson has tersely denied Web-fueled rumors that Lohan received a digital bust-reduction to keep from offending family audiences. That rumor is dubious, but there is a valid point: "Herbie" is an odd role now for Lohan, who triumphed with a career-expanding turn in "Mean Girls." If "Mean Girls" was Lohan's debutante ball, "Herbie" sits her back at the kiddie table. She's matured, and no longer fits in the Disney mold.
Moreover, there just aren't many surprises. Gags are recycled from previous movies (Herbie squirts oil, ruining enemy shoes!). "Fully Loaded's" super-charged, retro-looking trailer reveals all the best stunts, leaving the rest of the movie to run on fumes.
Still, we learn about the value of family, listening to your heart and, above all, the importance of corporate sponsorship.
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'Herbie: Fully Loaded'
Directed by Angela Robinson; screenplay Thomas Lennon & Robert Ben Garant and Alfred Gough & Miles Millar; cinematography by Greg Gardiner; production design by Daniel Bradford; music by Mark Mothersbaugh ; edited by Wendy Greene Bricmont; produced by Robert Simonds. A Buena Vista Pictures release; opens Wednesday. Running time: 1:32. MPAA rating: G.
Maggie Peyton - Lindsay Lohan
Ray Peyton Sr. - Michael Keaton
Trip Murphy - Matt Dillon
Ray Peyton Jr. - Breckin Meyer
Kevin - Justin Long
Sally - Cheryl Hines
Crash - Jimmi SimpsonCopyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times