Maggie Peyton (Lindsay Lohan) is the only girl in a family of NASCAR drivers (including Breckin Meyer). Unable to realize her dreams of speed, Maggie is resigned to a quieter life after her graduation from college. As a gift, her father (Michael Keaton) offers her any car in a nearby junkyard to restore, leading Maggie to an unusually expressive Volkswagen Beetle named Herbie. With a souped-up Herbie and an old friend (Justin Long) urging her to quench her thirst for racing, Maggie agrees, and soon finds herself going head to head with NASCAR champ Trip Murphy (Matt Dillon) in the most unlikely vehicle the sport has ever witnessed.
Desperate for a franchise, Disney has resurrected the "Herbie" series of Dean Jones films that the studio drove into the ground more than 30 years ago (not counting a television movie in 1997). To bring the automobile icon back to hipster life, the executives have played it smart and brought Lindsay Lohan onboard to slip behind the wheel. Her charms help this new "Herbie" adventure considerably, for without her spunk, this update would still be spinning its wheels in the junkyard.
The director is Angela Robinson, fresh off the colorful and extremely painful dud "D.E.B.S." Even though "D.E.B.S." was a complete chore to sit through, I can see why Disney went to this novice filmmaker for "Herbie: Fully Loaded" (IMDb listing). Robinson has a feeble grip on pacing, but her films are colorful creations, brightly painted and photographed, and they always attempt to be as pleasant as possible, regardless if their mission is accomplished. The screenplay for "Herbie" stutters to tell a story that is only marginally interesting, but Robinson does her best to make the drama in between Herbie's antics count with her cheery delivery. Thank heavens Robinson has an acting heavyweight like Michael Keaton to back her up; his excellent work alone adds the right amount of emotion to Maggie's dramatic journey.
But enough of that "dramatic journey" nonsense, right? "Herbie" is about an emotive, living car, for goodness sake! This is where Robinson really does her job well. While the bug's antics have been sweetened with CGI for this round, the entertainment value is just the same. Not surprisingly, "Herbie" comes alive whenever Maggie and the car get to do their thing, whether it's humiliating Trip during a race with some skateboard moves on the track or surviving a round in a demolition derby powered by Van Halen's "Jump" (a film highlight). Even with his new gadgets and bumper expressions, Herbie is still a kick when the film actually pays attention to him (which doesn't seem to be all that much in the finished film). And Lohan sells the madcap nature of the whole enterprise in her own unique way: with delightful raspy squeaks and giggles.
Though the NASCAR-flavored finale is a bit anticlimactic for the characters, the G-rated "Herbie: Fully Loaded" is a solid bit of wacky fun that reintroduces the franchise back onto solid ground.
Filmfodder Grade: B