The only thing in Herbie: Fully Loaded more round and bouncy than the titular VW Beetle is star Lindsay Lohan’s inflated rack, which figures so prominently throughout Angela Robinson’s film that it’s no surprise Disney execs reportedly spent $1 million digitally reducing her headlights. Yet no amount of anti-jiggle CG work can fully diffuse the sexual undertones racing beneath the cute and cuddly hood of this modern update of the kid-friendly 1970s series.
Lohan is Maggy Peyton, a former street racer who’s just graduated college at the urging of her father Ray (Michael Keaton), a NASCAR team chief who refuses to let his spunky daughter get behind the wheel for fear that she’ll once again wind up in the hospital (presumably not for “exhaustion”). For a post-college present, Maggie goes to the scrap yard and buys the antiquated-looking Herbie (still adorned with the number 53 and a cheesy racing stripe), only to discover that the anthropomorphic automobile doubles as a supernaturally powered stockcar with a raging, mischievous libido.
Despite being affectionately known as the Love Bug, Herbie is more of a horny pest in Herbie: Fully Loaded (how about that “loaded” title?), a fact immediately confirmed by the newspaper headline-filled opening credit sequence in which the car is depicted, during his halcyon celebrity past, hanging at Studio 54. If he’s not squirting Maggie’s chest with liquid or coyly batting his eyelashes, Herbie is excitedly pumping up his wheels when a yellow Beetle passes by, pushing Maggie and her de facto love interest Kevin (a sweetly flustered Justin Long) into his backseat, grabbing onto the bumpers (or climbing on top of) other cars on the race track, or smiling at the sight of his new owner, whose T-shirts get progressively tighter and more low-cut as the film progresses toward its inevitably triumphant conclusion.
After the sex-tinged opening, Herbie: Fully Loaded—which scores points for properly utilizing Lionel Richie’s so-cheesy-it-hurts “Hello”—settles into a typical teen romance-by-way-of-sports movie formula, with Maggie ditching her job at ESPN in order to fulfill her dream as a NASCAR superstar with Herbie, along the way infuriating evil Nextel Series champ Trip Murphy (Matt Dillon) while teaching her car how to flip and twirl like a skateboard. Director Robinson dolls up her retro film in bright colors and split-screen effects, the better to dazzle her tween audience long enough to make them forget Lohan’s increasingly bizarre (and emaciated) tabloid-fodder antics and the inappropriate innuendo running throughout this G-rated romp. But it’s nonetheless hard to ignore the potential double entendre of Maggie’s exhortation, during the speedway-set finale, to “Go hard Herbie!”
Herbie and Lindsay Lohan are dogged by edge enhancement and there some instances of color bleeding and compression artifacts, but it's an otherwise slick presentation. The Dolby Digital 5.1 surround track is handsome though Herbie's antics could have probably benefited from a DTS kick.
Is it possible to take director Angela Robinson seriously after she says she was "really excited to get this movie out there"? Or when she says that she "thought the script was hilarious"? Or after saying how she wanted the film to be "Seabiscuit with a car"? If so, then you'll probably get a kick out of the rest of junk packed into the DVD's supplemental trunk: a bunch of deleted scenes, an alternate ending, Lindsay Lohan's "First" music video, three featurettes, and trailers for upcoming Disney product including The Chronicles of Narina and Lady and the Tramp.
It's easy to imagine a better Herbie: Fully Loaded had Grace Jones's "Sex Drive" blared during the film's racing sequences.