Herbie: Fully Loaded

Herbie, the “Love Bug” who made fans everywhere fall in love with the Volkswagen beetle in the ‘70s, returns “fully loaded” for a new millennium makeover. That means more over the top action, hot Disney-brand hottie co-stars, and as many CGI special effects as possible. Yup, Herbie is fully loaded all right, but to say what that load is would break the film’s G-rating. Lindsay Lohan, everyone’s favorite tabloid Disney-ho, runs through Herbie: Fully Loaded with a gravely, rough voice. I can only assume this came from yelling at her agent between takes for getting her involved with such a piece of trash as this movie. How Lohan, who starred in the incredibly interesting Mean Girls, ended up in the unnecessary newest chapter of Herbie films is a question that actually extends to most of the cast. This movie represents the low mark for most of the stars. I mean, Matt Dillon did Crash this year! How do you star in the year’s best and worst films in the same year?

Fully Loaded opens with a montage of Herbie’s past exploits - winning races, performing crazy stunts, etc. - basically recaps of the four films that make The Love Bug a car worthy of sitting alongside Knight Rider, both in fan’s minds and in a clip in the opening credits. The inclusion of these clips are a fantastic way to remind fans of Herbie’s accomplishments, and introduce the target audience of this film, most of whom weren’t born when Herbie movies were originally made, to the car. Unfortunately, this opening is rendered completely useless however, since nobody in the film recognizes Herbie or remembers anything he’s accomplished - and we’re talking about people who live, breathe, and eat professional racing.

Moving into the cliché Disney story, Lindsay Lohan plays Maggie Peyton, a new college graduate daughter of a Nascar family. Maggie’s father, Ray Peyton Sr. (Michael Keaton) runs “Team Peyton - Built to Race”, a losing racing team whose driver is Maggie’s brother, Ray Peyton Jr. (Breckin Meyer). Congrats to the writers for at least recreating that Nascar feeling by putting junior and senior characters in the cast. Maggie’s brother isn’t much of a driver, hence the “losing team” bit. Ironically (or predictably depending on who you are), Maggie is a hell of a driver although her father refuses to let her drive. This is partly due to an accident Maggie was involved in a few years ago during a street race, and partly because she reminds Ray Sr. of Maggie’s mother, who he “doesn’t want to lose twice.” In short, this is the typical Disney story of a daughter whose father won’t let her do what she was practically born to do. Oh dear, whatever will happen by the film’s end? Maggie’s salvation comes in the form of Herbie who, as I said before, isn’t recognized by any of the diehard racers in the movie. By the time the movie starts, the Bug is in a junkyard, the same junkyard Ray, Sr. brings Maggie to for her graduation gift. Maggie and Herbie meet, and the rest as they say, is well contrived plot device. Herbie and his enthusiastic spirit get Maggie racing again, putting her in direct conflict with Nascar superstar Trip Murphy (Matt Dillon), an over the top villain who’s only lacking a mustache to twirl. The remainder of the movie puts Maggie and Trip against each other in a number of races, leading up to Herbie and Maggie in an actual Nascar race, complete with appearances by Jeff Gordon, Dale Jarrett, and other Nascar drivers gawking over the idea of a beetle in an official race.

Extremely talented actors wasted in a lower quality story is not the worst thing Fully Loaded has to offer, although it’s certainly enough to wince over. What’s worse though is the treatment Herbie himself has to endure. Once a car that was able to express himself through the inferior technology of the ‘70s, now Herbie has the wonders of computer animation and improved practical effects to bring him to life. The result is a creation that would make George Lucas’s “Special Editions” proud. Herbie is a creature constantly in motion. His headlights serve as eyes, moving around and blinking. His bumper expresses frowns and smiles, and his sun visors act as eyebrows. All of that, while a step down from how Herbie used to be, I could almost have lived with. What’s beyond over the top is one single shot in the film where a fully computer animated Herbie moves to total expression, making a face behind the back of Trip Murphy, bending far beyond my belief would stretch. Although more expressive, Herbie is basically a shell of his former self - a live action version of the animated “Speed Buggy” cartoon, with only a lack of actual speech to distinguish the two.

It’s not spoiling anything to say the villain is defeated by the end of a rated-G Disney flick. As Matt Dillon is carried off, shouting “It’s not over between us Herbie”, I could only hope that it was, indeed, actually over. The only saving grace the movie has is that it never attempts to explain how Herbie is able to be so alive. Given how many times the Love Bug is rebuild through the course of the picture, I was fully expecting mechanics to find some part they’d never seen before or an actual heart or something that would explain away Herbie’s magic. Instead they managed to leave that one single part of the wonder of Herbie in tact. It’s a shame the filmmakers have essentially ruined what was once a fun filled franchise. I guess this is just proof that some movies from the past should remain in the past. Herbie: Fully Loaded is one of those rare DVD releases that is chock-full of bonus material, but none of it is really worth much. Of course, this could be tainted by the thought that the movie itself isn’t worth much, so supplementary material wouldn’t be of much value either. However, I have seen some excellently assembled DVDs on horrible movies before, so I don’t think that’s the problem. In any case, the general unintentional theme of the DVD seems to be just how clueless director Angela Robinson was about the movie she was making.

Three featurettes make up the “Backstage Disney” section of the disc. Each one is focused on a specific aspect of Herbie: bringing him to life, filming at Nascar, and stunt work. In each featurette Robinson and the effects people talk about how they wanted to bring back Herbie as if this was something important. Everyone adds in how they want to be faithful to the original Herbie movies, so there’s a deep irony that nothing in the movie really is. They especially seem to dwell on how they wanted to avoid CGI-effects, and push how they managed so many practical effects. Still, there are a large amount of computer effects in the movie (including some badly composited green screen shots) that nobody makes any excuses for. They even promote the terrible shot I mentioned before where Herbie makes the face behind Trip Murphy’s back (what they call the “Large Marge” shot - a la Pee Wee’s Big Adventure - that name alone should give you an idea of how the shot looks).

Deleted scenes and outtakes make up the better part of the disc, although if the movie’s not great you can only imagine what was cut. At least you don’t have to listen to Robinson cluelessly promote her movie through these sections, although that is an option since there’s an optional commentary on the cut scenes. The outtakes are mostly Lohan shrieking as costar Justin Long attempts to freak her out with fake spiders and rats. Ah, to be eighteen again and so overtly flirtatious...

Since this is a Disney release, it must include a music video loosely tied to the movie from one of their up and coming stars. For this movie who better then... Lindsay Lohan! Yup, the star of the movie gets her own music video as well. Maybe practicing for this song is what made her voice rough through the movie, but I still prefer to imagine the “screaming at her agent” scenario.

Finally there is a commentary track for the film, although if you’ve read what I’ve written up to here you already know what I’m going to say about it. Angela Robinson has no clue what a travesty of a movie she made here. She moves through the commentary track proudly promoting each accomplishment, completely unaware that nothing in this film is worth being proud of... except maybe the end credits. What can you expect from a director whose biggest credit until now was D.E.B.S.?

The last thing the DVD release for Herbie: Fully Loaded includes isn’t on the disc, but in the packaging. The release includes a code for some free Herbie gear inside Disney’s “Virtual Magic Kingdom” online game. Sadly, that gear will be reason enough for many fans to buy the disc. Disney collectors can be an obsessive lot, needing everything possible out there to complete their collection. I would dare say many people will buy the disc for the online gear and never watch the DVD. That thought makes me wish I could go through DVDs with that same blind attitude; I should be so lucky.