Herbie: Fully Loaded (2005) opens with a montage of footage from previous instalments in the series, combined with newspaper headlines charting the vivified Volkswagen’s rise to racing glory and decline into junkyard obscurity. Which is all fine and good, except that no one in the movie that follows seems to recognise “him” as a famous racer… despite his highly distinctive appearance and attitude! According to the director’s commentary, this expositional montage was added after test audiences demanded to know what had happened to Herby in the decades since his last theatrical outing… which might explain why it seems so inconsistent with the actual story. It also proves that sometimes you’re better off ignoring your test audiences, because the original opening titles would have included a really cute, fun cartoon sequence, which appears in a very rough form in the “deleted scenes” section.
I can’t be bothered getting into plot details here, because honestly that’s the least interesting part of the whole project… and I keep getting side-tracked, wondering if they’ve ever tried to explain how the damn car came to be magic in the first place. As far as as I can tell from his behaviour, Herbie is a fallen dog-angel (with serious self-esteem issues) who has been imprisoned in the chassis of a car, and must perform good deeds for deserving humans in order to earn his redemption, and the forgiveness of his Dog God. ‘Kay? Anyhoo, we all know that the most interesting thing about H:FL was the bizarre tabloid gossip suggesting that Disney had insisted that Lindsay Lohan’s chest be digitally covered and reduced to secure a family-friendly rating! But that’s pure poppycock, according to an interview with director Angela Robinson, from the Houston Chronicle: “That, I think, was largely propagated on the Internet… It wasn’t really a concern.” Asked directly if computer wizardry had been used to obscure cleavage or eliminate unwanted prurient implications, Robinson responds tersely. “No.” The unfortunate end result of all this speculation is that I spent much of the movie staring at Lohan’s boobs, to see if I noticed any significant shrinkage… whereas, of course, under normal circumstances, I would have been focussing all of my attention on her acting skills. Yes, sir. That’s my story, and I’m sticking to it.
Intriguingly there is a deleted scene where she saunters into the racing team’s garage wearing a very low-cut top, and all the mechanics drool over her… there’s even a slow-motion side-on shot of her bobbing along… but the whole sequence was cut for plot and pacing reasons. It also establishes some gratuitous sexual tension between Lohan’s character, and the much older rival driver, played by Matt Dillon (she had a crush on him when she was younger, and he has a crush on her now she’s older). This is followed by another deleted scene, where she lies on her bed and gazes up adoringly at the posters of Dillon stuck to her bedroom ceiling. Frankly, I think it would have made for a much better film if they’d fleshed out that side of their relationship a little more… but it wouldn’t really have been appropriate for a kid’s film, I guess. For the record, I think Lohan really is a very talented actress, and I don’t mind admitting that I got quite caught up in the more serious scenes between her and Michael Keaton, playing her overprotective patriarch. In fact, I would have much preferred this movie if they’d cut Herbie and his “hilarious” hijinks out of it, and kept more of the cleavage and character conflict in the final cut… d’oh!
But enough of this… on with the laundry list! As mentioned above, the movie was directed by Angela Robinson, who will always have a place in my heart for writing and directing D.E.B.S., a very sweet and funny lesbian-rom-com with “spy-fi” elements. Jill Ritchie appeared in both the original short, and feature length version of that movie, and she also turns up here as Lohan’s slightly superfluous gal-pal. A lot of her scenes got cut, so she doesn’t get much screentime, but she does treat us to some hilarious reaction shots all the same, so bless her for that. Ritchie has had minor roles in Ready to Rumble, The Geena Davis Show, Miss Match and Arrested Development, as well as playing ‘Shoshana Kapowski’ (Krysta’s sister?) in Southland Tales. Oddly enough when Herbie started getting the hots for another VW, I flashed back to that “Treer Saltair” commercial in Tales, where the two cars hump each other like dogs. Lordy! The owner of the shiny new VW is a supportive sponsor of the family team, played by Cheryl Hines, of Curb Your Enthusiasm fame. She’s has also had minor roles in Suddenly Susan, Reno 911!, Brothers & Sisters, and a starring role in RV: Runaway Vacation. I got a little confused when I saw Anna Faris listed on the IMDB page… but there’s a scene where Lohan’s character goes to watch Scary Movie 2 at a drive-in, and Farris appears on the big screen, running from some scary skellingtons. Oh, and Alanna Ubach has a quick cameo as a reporter during the desert race sequence… she isn’t credited at the end of the movie, but she does get a shout-out from Robinson on the commentary.
Fun fact: Although this was the first theatrical Herbie film since Herbie Goes Bananas in 1980, there was a made-for-television “sequel” titled The Love Bug, released in 1997, and starring Bruce Campbell, of all people. Apparently this entry introduced a nemesis for Herbie in the shape of an evil black Volkswagen named “Horace the Hate Bug”. Sounds fun, but sadly it isn’t available on DVD… shucks.