When you start talking about making a new Herbie movie, you're messing with my childhood - so you'd better do the job right. Happily, I think Disney did do it right with Herbie: Fully Loaded; this Herbie fan is happy with it, anyway. They retained the look and ably captured the heart of that little VW Bug, and that was the secret to success. Sure, Herbie's vamped up a little bit to race in the NASCAR event at the end, but he's still the same old Love Bug we knew and loved decades ago. It was somewhat painful for me to see the poor guy reduced to a forgotten legend mere seconds away from being crushed forever in a scrap yard, but Herbie's always been a master of last-second heroics. I also have to point out that Herbie is a great actor; he can't talk, but you always know how he is feeling. There are some human actors in Hollywood that could learn a lot about body language and self-expression from watching Herbie do his thing.
As I mentioned, Herbie's legendary racing career has been completely forgotten, leaving him forgotten and alone and about to be sent to that great junkyard in the sky. Then Maggie Peyton (Lindsay Lohan) comes along looking for a car and manages to save him in the nick of time. She's in for quite a surprise when the car takes her for her first ride - right to an old high school friend (Kevin, played by Justin Long, who does suffer from just a touch of David Schwimmer-itis) now running a garage, and then all the way to a big car expo featuring Nextel champion driver Trip Murphy (Matt Dillon). Everyone there makes fun of Herbie, but he has the last laugh after he challenges Trip to an impromptu race. This only renews Maggie's desire to follow in the Peyton family's racing footsteps, but she has to keep her identity a secret because her dad (Michael Keaton) refuses to let her race.
It is a formulaic movie; there's no doubt about that. Both Herbie and Maggie have to hit bottom in order for both of them to get back up and go after what they want. You've got the disapproving dad and the daughter dedicated to pursuing her lifelong goal, the nascent romance between Maggie and Kevin, and of course the villain who has to be put in his place. Herbie does it all in style, though, even using his signature move at the end of the big NASCAR race. Without a Buddy Hackett or a Don Knotts, it's not quite as funny as the classic Herbie films, but Herbie: Fully Loaded does a great job of reintroducing the Love Bug to a whole new generation of fans. Sports fans will also get a kick out of cameos by Stuart Scott, BP (Benny Parsons to those who don't follow NASCAR), Jeff Gordon (who even tries to act), Dale Jarrett, Tony Stewart (who, for once, doesn't wreck anybody), Jimmie Johnson, and probably some others I've forgotten.
I was happy to see the filmmakers throw in some little stuff that almost invisibly makes the movie better (it's those little things that really bring Herbie to life) - Herbie's wiper blade salute during the national anthem, for example. You also have a little budding romance for Herbie himself (who apparently likes 'em young), as there's this cute little number that really sets Herbie's radiator boiling.
Of course, the best thing about Herbie: Fully Loaded is the fact that it marks a return to the good old days of G-rated family films that everyone can watch and enjoy together. And all you parents out there, try and get hold of the classic Herbie films; if your kids enjoyed this one, they will absolutely love the old ones.