Herbie: Fully Loaded

(Angela Robinson, USA, 2005)


When I was ten years old, I thought The Love Bug (Robert Stevenson, 1969), a comedy about a car named Herbie, was the greatest film in the world. This undoubtedly had something to do with the high esteem in which my family held the Volkswagen.


Angela Robinson’s Herbie: Fully Loaded is a film to delight all children, and make any impressionable adult regress. It begins like gangbusters with a credit sequence mixing Pop Art graphics and a frenetic montage of every memorable action moment from every previous Herbie movie (there are four theatrical features in the series before this one, not to mention TV spin-offs).


Once we settle into the plot, we discover that Maggie (Lindsay Lohan at her best) has been excluded from the professional world of NASCAR by her car-obsessed father, Ray Sr (Michael Keaton). He wants to protect his little girl, and instead grooms the hopeless Ray Jr (Breckin Meyer) for a success he will never achieve.


However, Herbie – delegated to a junkyard and earmarked for the crushing machine – takes both his own destiny and Maggie’s in hand. Soon she is racing the dastardly Trip (Matt Dillon) on the track, while attempting to hide her identity (and her gender) under a helmet. This masquerade is the most contrived element of the story, but at least it leads to an emotionally satisfying Girl Power ending.


Robinson was an intriguing choice for director here. Associated with the queer cinema movement, her D.E.B.S. (2004) is among the best and most ingeniously subversive teen-action comedies of the 21st century so far. The material of Herbie: Fully Loaded doesn’t quite rise to the occasion of Robinson’s best and cheekiest talents, but it certainly adds another string to her bow, as she works across everything from web series to mainstream film and TV genres.


As usual, Herbie proves to be a histrionic and, in fact, rather libidinal creature. His doors whack people who insult him, his headlights blink like eyes, he revs his motor whenever a nice-looking female car drives past. All this cartoonish stuff is vigorously underlined in the musical score by Mark Mothersbaugh – a composer whose previous work with Devo and Wes Anderson makes him the ideal candidate for the job.


The difference between the old and new Herbie movies is, of course, digital special effects. Previous instalments featured old-fashioned stunt work; now, every gravity-defying feat of which this car is capable looks like a sleek, unreal piece of animation (especially in a hilarious Demolition Derby scene).


However, no amount of blatant technical artifice can distract from Lohan’s beaming, perky charm here; she has rarely been this good in movies. To appropriate a Neil Young/Stephen Stills song anthem: long may she – and Herbie, too – run!

© Adrian Martin June 2005

Film Critic: Adrian Martin
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