July 1st, 2005

Kitten Girl

Herbie: Fully Loaded

Herbie Rides Again was released on June 6, 1974, less than a week after my 9th birthday. I don't remember when, exactly, I saw it for the first time, but it was definitely soon after. I loved Volkswagen Beetles, and I loved San Francisco...it was a perfect movie seemingly made for me. I know I saw it at least twice that summer, in the theatre. Once school started in the fall, I read the Scholastic Books novelisation till the pages fell out.

One of my most favourite scenes was one where the star, Herbie the Love Bug, evading the real-estate baron bad guys, drove across the Golden Gate Bridge...on the cables, not the pavement.

Imagine my delight during the opening credits of Herbie: Fully Loaded when I saw that scene included in flashbacks of the little VW's illustrious past as a racing champion. Scenes from all four Herbie movies are included, along with newspaper headlines detailing the highs and lows of a 35+ year career.

Old Number 53 is back, and he still has his black and yellow OFP-857 license plate. He's hit the skids lately, and ended up in Crazy Dave's junkyard...but he's still the same old Herbie, apart from a bit more animated (when did he grow eyelids?) "face." And that's the beauty of the film. It is the same old Herbie, and the dumb jokes and the special effects and even the scenery are, somehow, the same supernatural shades they were in 1969 when The Love Bug came in first...and third. The "Herbie" theme song is even still included, his radio is still push-button and AM-only, and his horn still sounds the same.

Which, considering what they could have done with a "new" Herbie movie, is a huge relief.

The heart is the same: Herbie is a racer. He's rescued in the junkyard by Maggie Payton, whose grandfather, father and brother are all racecar drivers. Kindred spirits, they need each other. Thanks to a friend from high school who just happens to be cute and own his own detailing and repair shop (and who looks eerily like Scott Bakula in the old Quantum Leap days), Herbie goes to NASCAR.

Well, sure. It's the sport of the New Millenium, after all. You know the 42 year old Herbie would want to be a part of that.

Lindsey Lohan is Michelle Lee and Stephanie Powers all rolled into one, you barely miss Dean Jones (but would it have killed them to give him a cameo?) and Micheal Keaton makes a damn convincing quasi-redneck. But the star is the car, and Herbie is the hero. To its credit, the film doesn't ignore that, in the intervening 25 years since Herbie last hit the big screen, Volkswagen actually started making Beetles again, and, in fact, uses it. "She's too young for you," is about the best line imaginable for Herbie meeting a new Beetle, and oh, yes, they do go there.

The only annoyance in the whole film, really, is that no one in this supposedly connected racing community knows who Herbie is or why he keeps beating the evil Matt Dillon NASCAR champ. Since in the reality of the film Herbie was, once upon a time, a famous racing car (alluded to by the observation that his speedometer goes up to 200 mph), and Maggie is a third-generation racing star, how can it be that not one person has ever heard of Herbie? Granted, it was a long time ago, but no one can go, "Hey, I seem to recall a VW at Monte Carlo back in the 70's"? No one can go home after a race and Google "Herbie"? That one detail about drove me nuts, you should pardon the expression.

Still, at the very end of the film, when the credits inform us that, for copyright purposes, in the UK the creator of this movie is "Team Douglas Productions," you know that the makers of this film were, truly, Thinking Small.
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