Movie Mom

Lindsay Lohan tries for three for three with another remake of a Disney classic, following The Parent Trap and Freaky Friday with an updated version of The Love Bug, but this one doesn’t quite make it across the finish line.

Herbie (the VW bug who thinks he is a race car) is as cute as ever, and gives by far the most endearing and convincing performance in the film. But the rest of the story is formulaic and tired, with retro effects that are dull rather than nostalgic and a soundtrack of oldies as uninspired as a K-Tel “Hits of the 70’s” compilation.

This time, Herbie’s driver is Maggie (Lohan), who has just graduated from college (arriving at the ceremony via skateboard, cap and gown over tiny miniskirt). Before she goes to New York to start a job at ESPN, she goes home to visit her dad (Michael Keaton as Ray, Sr.) and brother (Breckin Meyer as Ray, Jr.), NASCAR racers whose poor performance has lost them sponsors. Maggie picks Herbie out of a junkyard — well, she may think so, but in reality, Herbie picks Maggie. The glove compartment pops open and there is a note inside, explaining that Herbie will help solve her problems. “Great,” she says, “A fortune cookie on wheels.”

And we’re off to the races, literally, as Herbie drives Maggie and her chldhood friend Kevin (Justin Long), who happens to be a mechanic, to an event featuring reigning NASCAR champ Trip Murphy (Matt Dillon). When Herbie beats Trip’s car in an impromptu street race, Maggie and Kevin decide to get him ready for the big time.

This is a special effects slapstick movie, and on that level it works pretty well and will amuse little kids. But whoever decided to give a “story by” credit should be sued for false advertising, as there is no story here whatsoever, just a tired formula sent around a tired track. Lohan and Keaton achieve sincerity, but without any sense of character or conviction. Long and Cheryl Hines (“Curb Your Enthusiasm”) are wasted in parts that are nothing but filler in between races and pratfalls. But that’s better than the clutter from pointless cameos by NASCAR drivers who deliver lines with the stiffness of shirt cardboard. We love Herbie because he has a heart and soul. We don’t love this movie because it has no idea how to find either one.

Parents should know that the movie has some mild cartoon-style peril, including car crashes and a demolition derby, but no one is seriously hurt. There is a reference to a past crash that led to some injuries. There is a very sweet kiss and a mild reference to peeking when someone changes clothes. Characters use very mild (“swear to God”) and briefly crude language.

Families who see this movie should talk about why Ray had different views on letting his son and daughter race. How did Ray feel when he found out that Maggie lied. How did Herbie feel when Maggie talked about driving Trip’s car?

Families who enjoy this movie willl also enjoy the original Herbie movies and they might also enjoy some of the other stories about anthropomorphic automobiles, from Knight Rider to “My Mother the Car” and Stephen King’s very scary Christine.

Families who appreciate the race sequences will enjoy learning more about NASCAR and about women race car drivers like Danica Patrick and Shirley Muldowney, whose life was portrayed in Heart Like a Wheel. Teens and adults may enjoy reading Turn Signals are the Facial Expressions of Automobiles, which shows us how the way cars are designed is in part a reflection of our willingness to see them as having emotions.

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