Leave this one at the scrap yard: ‘Herbie’ is back, honk if you care

By and

“Herbie: Fully Loaded”

Walt Disney Pictures

Directed by Angela Robinson

Written by Thomas Lennon, Ben Garant, Alfred Gough, and Miles Millar

Starring: Lindsay Lohan, Justin Long, Matt Dillon and Michael Keaton

Rated G/101 minutes

Opened June 22, 2005

Two out of four stars

No imagination is required for “Herbie: Fully Loaded,” a cookie-cutter Disney flick of the most nauseating order.

A magical VW Bug named Herbie actually winks and smiles and flaps its doors with glee. He gets scared, he gets depressed and he even lusts after a sleek, “younger” Bug. (BOING! goes his antenna.)

It’s fun to project human emotions onto inanimate objects. The toaster, for instance, burns waffles because it’s still peeved about that time a sadist violated its innards with a knife. Or, a computer crashes over and over again because it wants to make its owner sweat over deadlines.

Two hours of this, however, is cloying and a little weird. It doesn’t help that “Herbie’s” script is pure formula-not the comforting kind, but the painfully obvious “and this is the scene in which her dad has a change of heart” kind. Little kids might like it, but even they would be better off watching “Howl’s Moving Castle,” or something that actually stirs the imagination.

Lindsay Lohan stars as Maggie Peyton, daughter of racing legend Ray Peyton Sr. (played by Michael Keaton) and brother of racing disaster Ray Jr. (played by Breckin Meyer).

The Peyton name is running on empty because Ray Jr. is only good at two things: spinning-out on the track and crashing into things. Maggie was once a hellcat street-racer, but her widowed father forbids her to climb behind the wheel for reasons that conveniently complicate matters later on.

Enter Herbie. Maggie finds him rotting in a scrap yard, and with the help of a high school friend-turned-mechanic (played by Justin Long), they become an unstoppable racing duo-much to the chagrin of professional NASCAR jerk Trip Murphy (played by Matt Dillon).

Herbie steers himself, slides down a rail like a skateboarder and reads English at a fourth-grade level (you’d think a VW Bug would be more fluent in German, but…).

Everyone accepts these amazing facts rather quickly-Herbie smokes the competition and that’s apparently all that matters.

To call these characters inattentive and narrow-minded would be a vast understatement.

The plot is like a check-list of Disney clichs: single-parent household, girl/boy who must choose between a safe future or a big dream and, most nauseatingly, the parent who refuses to support his/her child until the very end, when Dad/Mom shows up at the big game/race/ice-skating show and nods with belated approval.

Cue tears!

Lohan is charming as always. Oh, and that rumor that Disney digitally reduced her, ahem, biggest commodities seems entirely unfounded.

Dillon has fun shifting his earnest, tough-guy sleaze into overdrive.

Lohan, Dillon and the rest of the cast do their best with a script that doesn’t give them anything clever to say or do.

Perhaps “Herbie: Fully Loaded’s” biggest problem lies within its premise: Herbie can steer himself, so how much of that incredible driving is really Maggie? Does she just sit there and let the Bug do all the work?

It’s the same, old Sunday drive-and like Herbie himself, this movie is on autopilot.

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