Herbie: Fully Loaded

Those with more prurient interests can breathe a sigh of relief: Contrary to the Internet rumors, Lindsay Lohan's breasts do not appear to have been digitally reduced for her new, G-rated Disney flick. Hollywood's most notoriously debauched teen starlet has a bad reputation to uphold, after all, and director Angela Robinson, the woman responsible for this spring's cheeky lesbian secret-agent spoof D.E.B.S., sees to it that her star's mammaries are featured prominently in just about every frame. Whether they're all-natural or not may forever be debatable, but this much is certain: The former Mean Girl and her costumers sure seem proud of what they have to work with.

Lohan's off-screen image has ballooned so large that the actress seems almost intentionally at odds with a project as innocuous as this one, an update of the popular-if-moronic Love Bug movies of the late '60s and '70s. Surprisingly, her tabloid rep for paparazzi-dodging, weight-manipulating and Hilary Duff-baiting doesn't get in the way of the modest, pleasant preteen fun of this film.

Shown for years in elementary school gymnasiums everywhere, the original Herbie movies featured Dean Jones mugging for the camera while his benevolently possessed 1963 VW Beetle performed some not-so astonishing feats thanks to the miracle of lame, fast-motion film footage. This new-millennium Herbie may have a few new tricks up his sleeve, but for the most part, Robinson resists the temptation to make the car a completely computer-generated, Jar Jar/Scooby Doo-style character. With expressive horn honks, frowning/smiling chrome bumper and constantly swiveling headlights, the VW is an utterly retro special effect, one that comes alive during the stylish, well-shot race scenes.

The thin thread of a plot that holds together Herbie's antics involves a plucky graduate named Maggie (Lohan), whose former NASCAR-star dad (Michael Keaton) would like to carry on the family name through his race-challenged son (Breckin Meyer). Maggie's slated for an internship at ESPN, but like every Disney heroine, she's determined to win her dad's approval — this time by beating a cocky superstar driver, Trip Murphy (a convincingly smarmy Matt Dillon).

Robinson has a knack for bright, snappy, kid-pleasing visuals and a keen sense of kitsch. This is one of those rare instances where an incessantly cartoony score — by former Devo frontman Mark Mothersbaugh — actually adds to the fun instead of detracting from it. Most of the movie plays like a decent episode of The Monkees: It may not be smart, but at least it's not outright dumb, which is more than can be said for the other live-action tiny-tot offerings in theaters right now. Who knows — if Herbie does well at the box office, Lohan might be stranded in the G-rated ghetto for years to come.

Michael Hastings writes about film for Metro Times. Send comments to [email protected].

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