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There's still a lot to love about Herbie the Bug


Talk about classic movie images and a few quickly come to mind: sparks flying from the ruby slippers in The Wizard of Oz, E.T. pointing at Elliott's heart, the snow globe shattering at the beginning of Citizen Kane.

Then, of course, there's the VW Beetle winning an auto race in 1969's The Love Bug.

Anyone who isn't charmed by the idea of a Beetle crossing the finish line first is either chronically churlish or isn't trying. Movie audiences, especially kids, have always been with the program, making a hit of The Love Bug as well as its four theatrical sequels (the last of which was 1980's Herbie Goes Bananas).

Herbie: Fully Loaded continues in the grand tradition and should prove just as popular, thanks to that game Bug's everlasting appeal and an honestly charming performance from Lindsay Lohan, in what will probably be her last celebration of cinematic innocence before becoming a "serious" actress and moving on to more adult roles.

Still, there's the nagging feeling that director Angela Robinson and her team of four credited screenwriters aren't really getting into the spirit of things. Maybe the movie is too obsessed with product placement (at times, it plays like a commercial for ESPN or NASCAR) to notice, but putting a Beetle up against million-dollar stock cars offers tremendous visual and aural possibilities, few of which are realized. Heck, a simple shot of a Bug's minimalist dashboard, in contrast to the space-age assortment of gauges and doohickeys employed by your average stock car, should have generated all sorts of laughs. Or the roar of stock-car engines up against the distinctive (and diminutive) ping-ping-ping of a VW engine. Those sort of laughs are rare indeed in Fully Loaded, constituting a needlessly wasted opportunity. At the very least, those of us raised on Beetles would have enjoyed some serious chortles.

The movie opens with a series of newspaper headlines that recall Herbie in his prime, winning races and friends the world over. But for reasons that go unexplained, the little guy has fallen on hard times and has been exiled to Crazy Dave's salvage yard (which yields the fabulous oxymoron, "Nobody makes a fool of Crazy Dave!").

But good fortune smiles on Herbie one last time, and he ends up as a college-graduation present for Maggie Peyton, daughter of fading stock-car legend Ray Peyton (Michael Keaton, the best he's been in a long time). Maggie has the heart and soul of a driver, but dad is dead-set against it, pinning his hopes for a dynasty on Ray Jr. (Breckin Meyer), who has the unfortunately deserved nickname of Crash.

Herbie and Maggie, however, prove an unbeatable pair - literally. But lurking in the background is unscrupulous champ Trip Murphy (a scenery-chewing Matt Dillon), who's determined to squash that Bug at all costs.

Herbie: Fully Loaded is fine family fare, silly enough for the kids and nostalgic enough for adults (most of whom probably drove a Herbie at one time or another). True, purists will cringe at the filmmakers' decision to soup Herbie up a bit - since when does the Love Bug need a spoiler? - and the film should have had more fun with the very incongruity of its premise.

Still, this is a movie about a little VW with the heart of a roadster. What's not to love about that?

Herbie: Fully Loaded

Starring Lindsay Lohan, Michael Keaton, Matt Dillon

Directed by Angela Robinson

Released by Walt Disney

Rated G

Time 96 minutes

SUN SCORE ** 1/2 (2 1/2 STARS)

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