I hope you all got a bit of a kick out of Sci-Fi B-Movie Week. If you want me to try any more themed weeks like that, feel free to drop your two cents (or pence, pesos, centimes, whatever) worth in my suggestions box. The link is just above and slightly to the right. And with that, we’re back to Friday.
Lohan is no Bruce Campbell
Maggie Peyton, scion of the Peyton family racing team and newly graduated from college, needs a car to get around in for the summer before she goes off to take a job in New York. At the local salvage yard she meets Herbie. The Love Bug has fallen on hard times and was destined for the crusher before Maggie came along and saved him. Seemingly overnight, she and her friend Kevin fix up the old boy and accidentally get into a streetrace with a NASCAR champion. Hilarity does not ensue.
I don’t really know what I was expecting from this quality-wise. It wasn’t particularly good or memorable, but it didn’t make me want to self-harm either so I suppose that’s a recommendation. The movie starts as Maggie skateboards her way into her graduation ceremony at the last second. I have seen plenty of graduations in movies and on TV and I would have sworn this was a high school ceremony, which would have fit the story (girl gets her first car, last summer of freedom before going off to start new life, all that other shit) perfectly, not to mention the intended audience demographic. Later in the scene in fact, I could have sworn Maggie’s father proudly said she was the first Peyton to graduate high school, which is maybe a little weird in hindsight. Imagine my surprise about twenty minutes later when Peyton Sr. hangs a framed college degree up on the wall. I would go back and watch that opening scene again just to check if my hearing was out, but I honestly don’t care that much.
Not counting a guest spot on That 70’s Show, this was both Lindsay Lohan’s follow-up to Mean Girls, and her last lead role before the wheels started falling off her career (sorry). Watching this totally objectively, without thinking about the car crash her public life became for a few years there (sorry), you can see her concentration wavering through the picture. There are scenes that she pretty much coasts through, and then there are moments where you can see the headlights go full-beam (I really want to stop these car puns, I swear). It doesn’t help that the quality of support isn’t up to much. That’s not to say that the rest of the cast suck, it’s just that all the other characters are fairly bland and unremarkable. The problem is with the script, really. The only person Lohan gets to spar with in any way is Matt Dillon as Trip Murphy, her NASCAR rival. I think Dillon is a hugely underrated comedy actor, especially when it comes to the cartoony bad guy roles. If you liked him as Pat Healy in There’s Something About Mary, you’ll have a pretty good idea what to expect here. While Dillon gets to take a nice big bite out of all the scenery, Michael Keaton is wasted as Maggie’s father Ray Sr. Ray’s arc (if you can call it that – it barely qualifies) follows the well-worn path of over-protective father who doesn’t want his precious offspring to follow her dreams because he can’t bear to see her to fail/get her heart broken/die in a fiery car accident (delete as appropriate) but eventually comes around when he realises this is what she really wants to do. Sorry; spoiler.
There is one thing that really bugged me about this film. In just about every scene they share, either Maggie or Ray mention a bad accident she had in a street race at some point in the past which left her in hospital for a while, this being the reason he made her promise never to race again. WHY DON’T WE SEE THIS CRASH?! There’s some instant drama right there; just add water. It could have been a big exciting prologue or an affecting flashback, but nope. They talked about it so much I started to think I’d missed the beginning of the flick. The movie had four (credited) writers and none of them thought to put in the car crash? Maybe it’s not fair to blame the writers – the scene might very well have been written in at some point – but they did mess up with the character development so I’m going to dump this at their door too.
I was just thinking: maybe Justin Long is cursed. He was in a movie with Britney Spears, then she went nuts. He did this movie with Lindsay Lohan, then her life went somewhat tits-up. Is it going to be Blake Lively’s turn next? (That was a reference to Accepted, by the way; probably the funniest college movie of the last twenty years and a proud member of my Top 50 Movies list. If you haven’t seen it, you really should.)
So what about the real star of the film, I hear you ask? The Herb (or El Herberino if you’re not into the whole brevity thing) is as much fun as ever. Along with Matt Dillon, he’s the best thing about the movie. The technology has moved on so much since the earlier run of Love Bug films, but director Angela Robinson wisely sticks to the same sort of schtick as before. I’m sure it would have been tempting to go overboard but there is only one really extreme CG stunt and that’s during the Demolition Derby scene. It is a pretty cool beat in fairness. I was actually quite impressed by the effects work overall when it came to the car and his personality (there was some quite jarring green-screen stuff during the final race though) and it’s nice that so much of it seems to have been done practically. If they ever make another Herbie film, I have a terrible feeling the star will be end up being completely CG. If this movie has one positive legacy, it will be that it wasn’t good enough to warrant a sequel.