'Cars 2' review: Pixar runs out of gas. Into a brick wall.

*1/2 (out of four)

Zzzzz ... oh, sorry. Lightning McQueen (Owen Wilson) succumbs to trash-talk from an Italian loudmouth (John Turturro) who fuels a meaningless rivalry. Meanwhile, McQueen’s small-town best pal Tow Mater (Larry the Cable Guy) is confused for an undercover agent and embroiled in an international conspiracy tracked by a British intelligence officer (Michael Caine). Because nothing amuses kids like a Bond-esque espionage story their older relatives have seen 100 times before.

The buzz: Really, Pixar? I thought the studio that brought us “Ratatouille” and “The Incredibles” was above the mistaken identity storyline. “Cars” was the studio’s least inspired film and didn’t deserve a follow-up, but maybe last year’s phenomenal “Toy Story 3” will usher in another sequel with the same magic.

The verdict: The only message here is that any behavior is appropriate as long as you’re being yourself, which is just not true and a strange lesson to offer kids. (It’s akin to saying, “Hey, bull, do your thing in that china shop.”) Imagination has taken a year off for the one-laugh, heart-free “Cars 2,” which is beautifully animated yet packs no impact in the visual details. Pixar doesn't get a free pass for merely looking great. It hasn't needed one until now. “Cars 2” is an emotionally absent action flick that overcompensates for forgettable characters and oppressive, annoying car-related puns. I mean, Brent Musberger is Brent Mustangberger and London’s Big Ben is Big Bentley, ha!

Did you know? Preceding the movie is a full trailer for “The Muppets,” which looks like joy-filled proof of the right way to extend a franchise. Just sayin’.

Watch Matt on “You & Me This Morning,” Fridays at 7 a.m. on WCIU, the U

mpais@tribune.com

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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