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‘Cars 2’ tries to lap predecessor, despite shifting gears on genre

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We knew “Cars 2” was going in an “international espionage” direction, as an early press release had it. But until Tuesday morning’s trailer, we didn’t quite know how much of an action-comedy the film really was.

The Pixar sequel will do its best Austin Powers imitation when it comes out on June 24. Owen Wilson and Larry the Cable Guy reprise their roles as Lightning McQueen and Mater, the race car and tow truck with a knack for finding trouble.

This time, however, the pair forsake the small-town America (and attendant social commentary) of Radiator Springs for the glitz of Tokyo and various international destinations. The plot concerns the two traveling to a Grand Prix race and being mistaken for international operatives. “These Americans are clearly master spies,” Michael Caine’s British agent Finn MacMissile intones, incorrectly.

There’s still plenty of the buddy comedy that the original gave us but also some big action set pieces as well, like a shoot-em-up plane-auto chase scene that has Mater screaming, ‘I knew I should have done carry-on.’

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Pixar movies are some of the most crowd-pleasing around –- every one of the 11 films the company has released has become a hit. The original “Cars,” back in 2006, was in the middle of, if not at the front of, that pack, drawing more dollars than “Wall-E” and “Rattatouille” if fewer than “Monsters, Inc.’ and “Up.’ And audiences usually come out to see animated sequels in greater numbers than the original.

Still, this sequel, which like the original is directed by Pixar maven John Lasseter, will have some work cut out for it. The studio has never released an action-comedy before (the closest was ‘The Incredibles,’ and that was more of a superhero riff than a comedy). And the action-comedy genre has been hit hard lately (see flops like “Killers” and ‘The Spy Next Door’).

The film also won’t have one of the original’s biggest selling points -- Paul Newman in the role of Doc Hudson. Unless, of course, Pixar makes some audio magic happen too.

-- Steven Zeitchik

twitter.com/ZeitchikLAT


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