A basic children's film, Herbie Fully Loaded picks up where the last film left off. It's a direct sequel over 20 years later, and while Herbie may be entertaining, the movie is not. It's an updated take on an old story, and only the youngest kids will find this fun.
Part of the problem is how generic the entire film is. As a sport movie that just happens to have a car that's alive (without a single explanation), there's no attempt to separate this from standard sports movie fare. Even the way this is directed lets you know what's coming next, such as the last minute save coming in at the last moment as the lead character spouts off a line about quitting.
That main character should be Herbie. It's not though, it's Lindsay Lohan. She's fine in a film that is what it is, but you're not going to see her. This is about the car she drives. Some of the special effects, especially the awful green screen used extensively, looks cheap and obvious. After some screenings and complaints from overprotective parents, Disney animators were forced to go in and digitally reduce their stars breast size. It looks like they spent more on that than the few Herbie CG shots.
To its credit, most of the film does use standard effects extensively, and they're one of the few highlights. This is a boring film, and in updating the series, it's lost its focus. The span between sequels (not including the few attempts at resurrecting the series, including a remake starring Bruce Campbell in 1997) should have been a sign to keep this one dead. (* out of *****)
If you're going to sit through this, it might as well be with this DVD transfer. This gorgeous looking presentation is barely below the flawless mark. Drenched in warm tones and bright colors, it should be a compression nightmare. It's not, and actually, only during the nice opening credit sequence is it noticeable. Grain is not an issue, and minor (very minor) color bleeding mars some of the detail in some brief shots. Aliasing is surprisingly absent given the small touches on the cars. (*****)
Since the video presentation is so superb, the audio should be too. Sadly, it's not. This is a bland audio mix (5.1 in English, Spanish, and French). Bass is prevalent in certain scenes, maybe even overpowering. Rear speaker use is rare, and it should be noticeably active given the movement of the cars. Crowd ambience during the final scenes is almost exclusive to the front channels. (**)
Extras on the other hand are fun, maybe even better than the film. Director Angela Robinson (who's only films before this include the lesbian vampire short Chickula and abysmal D.E.B.S.) is enthusiastic about the movie, and it comes through in her solo commentary and in the features. She also discusses eight deleted scenes and a failed alternate opening.
You can also watch most of the wisely cut moments without her talking. There was an entire subplot about Lohan's character admiration for the lead Nascar driver that becomes her main opponent (and played by Matt Dillion) that would have worked. However, the shorter this film the better.
A five-minute blooper reel is one of the highlights, including some hilarious practical jokes the cast played on Lohan and her apparent fear of spiders. There's an entire section of the disc dedicated to "Music & More." Inside of it? A single music video. The "more" portion of that must have gone missing.
Three short features cover various production aspects, rounding the disc out nicely. Day at the Races explains the sport of racing on a child's level, and actually isn't that bad for adults who know nothing about it. It also goes into Lohan's training for the role and her actual in-car experience. It does drag at 14-minutes, but it's informative.
Breaking the Rules is a 9-minute piece on the stunts. It's what you would expect from a feature of this type, including the usual array of praising from anyone involved. Bringing Herbie to Life is the best feature here aside from the outtakes. It wasn't easy giving the character emotions, and it's nice to see a crew set on not using CGI (though of course they needed to for certain scenes). (***)
Disney seems desperate these days. It's hard to imagine where they would be without Pixar, and sequels like this don't paint a pretty picture for the studio in their absence. Keep Herbie down forever, please.
Note: The DVD website for the film has an extra section likely to keep the kids busy. Go here and enter the code RACE.