Herbie: Fully Loaded

“Herbie: Fully Loaded” is the chilling tale of a car possessed with a malevolent spirit, an automobile that can take revenge on its enemies … and does so, with horrific, deadly precision.

Ah, if only. No, “Herbie: Fully Loaded” is just your garden variety Disney cannibalization of its own movies, an unnecessary retread that will have the exact same impact on you if you see it as if you don’t see it. Either way, you won’t be thinking about it tomorrow.

You’ll recall Herbie the magical VW Beetle from Disney’s 1968 film, as well as its three sequels (plus a made-for-TV sequel and a short-lived TV series). Herbie has a mind of his own and can drive under his own power. He can also hear and comprehend English, express emotion, formulate ideas and carry out complicated plans. In other words, he is more human than Nicole Ritchie.

Herbie can also go really fast and win races, but not anymore. In the present film, his glory days are over and he has been deposited at Crazy Dave’s Scrap & Salvage in the California desert.

Nearby are the Peytons, a family of racers who have fallen on hard times themselves. Ray (Michael Keaton), the proud rednecked patriarch, is on a losing streak, and Ray Jr. (Breckin Meyer) shows no natural ability for the sport. His daughter, Maggie (Lindsay Lohan), has just graduated from college and has a job lined up in New York, and he doesn’t want her racing even though she’s good at it and loves it. He’s worried about her safety, although I don’t know why, considering she comes equipped with her own airbags. (KA-ZING!)

Anyway, Maggie finds Herbie at the junkyard and enlists her old high school friend Kevin (Justin Long), now a mechanic, to help fix him up. She becomes aware of Herbie’s frightening powers when he causes her to win an impromptu street race against reigning NASCAR champion and first-class jerk Trip Murphy (Matt Dillon). This causes Trip Murphy to challenge Maggie to a rematch, and he nurses an intense grudge against Herbie, even though he doesn’t realize Herbie has magical powers and thinks he is just an ordianry car. Does Trip Murphy always get this angry at cars that beat him? What about traffic lights that turn red when he approaches? Or automatic doors at the grocery store that don’t immediately open when he steps in front of them? Trip Murphy is dangerously unbalanced, I think.

As long as we’re dwelling fruitlessly on logic, I note that Herbie develops a crush on another VW Beetle, one of those newer ones. Maggie says she’s too young for Herbie. But my question is, aren’t all cars except Herbie inanimate? Does Herbie not realize he’s the only living member of his species? Isn’t his being in love with another car sort of like a turtle falling in love with a rock? It’s sad, really.

The movie? Oh, it’s fine. Harmless, witless, unoriginal, uninventive, mildly entertaining and not liable to do any permanent damage to anyone who watches it. Remember, the movie didn’t get made because someone had a great story in mind, or a great script already hashed out. It got made because someone at Disney figured they could make a few bucks by reviving an old character. It’s exactly as good as you’d expect a movie like that to be.

C+ (1 hr., 33 min.; G, despite a little double-entendre -- when Disney barges into the MPAA offices and demands a G, Disney gets a G.)