Having now completed a triumvirate of remakes of classic Disney films, it's no wonder Lindsay Lohan is having a breakdown. She's like one of those Hollywood contract players of the 1940s with her life signed away to one studio, having to keep doing one cheesy film after another to fulfill her requirements or she'll never work in this town again. Think Sandra Dee in Gidget, and then her long descent into eating disorders and alcohol abuse.
What's Lindsay Lohan headed for after The Parent Trap, Freaky Friday and now Herbie: Fully Loaded? She might be a box office success, but she's nevertheless on a losing streak. She keeps getting older and more scandalous, while her fan base keeps getting younger and less sophisticated. Her turn as a tomboy who finds a magical VW Beetle and fulfills her destiny as a NASCAR driver will appeal most naturally to eight-year-old boys who get a kick out of a car squirting oil on bad guys. But just try getting them to sit through 107 minutes of girl-power talk and the specter of this muscle machine making goo-goo eyes with his headlights at a cute yellow roadster.
Alienating your core audience is a bad start, but director Angela Robinson doesn't have much to work with given Herbie's time-worn slapstick. There's a reason the series was retired after four tries and has laid dormant for most of the past two decades. After Robinson made her debut with the Day-Glo spoof D.E.B.S., Disney was probably expecting a little oomph from her to refresh the series.
But while other remakes in this crowded summer of remakes are amping up the sex appeal (like The Dukes of Hazzard) or going off on a tangent (like Bewitched), this director hasn't done much to mess with the formula. And her choice of Matt Dillon as the comic foil isn't exactly inspired. He's way too much of a gentleman actor to pull off the snarling evil villain act or the pathetic goof, a la Cloris Leachman or Don Knotts in previous Herbies.
Instead, Robinson angles for the grand update of making Herbie's human companion a girl. Lohan's Maggie Peyton is no Danica Patrick, though. It's no little point that Herbie does all the driving. All Maggie has to do is sit back and watch. Herbie starts winning races because she believes in him, not because she believes in herself. So all the gnashing of teeth about Maggie standing up for herself and living her real dream '- not to become an ESPN intern but to hop in a stock car '- is beside the point. So is the requisite love story that develops between Maggie and her mechanic (Justin Long) and the struggle with her overprotective dad (Michael Keaton) that's all tied up in the loss of her mother (another Disney movie where the mother is gone '- go figure...).
Rather than being a paragon of modern girl ambition, Maggie Peyton turns out more like a '50s suburban housewife, subverting her will to the male driver and enabling his successes. And that leaves Robinson without much to add to the feminist cinema canon.
iVillage Mood Meter: Will make you appreciate 1968's The Love Bug as an example of classic comedy
Stars: Lindsay Lohan, Michael Keaton, Matt Dillon
Director: Angela Robinson
Screenwriters: Gordon Buford, Thomas Lennon
Producer: Robert Simonds
Release date: June 22, 2005 nationwide