Herbie: Fully Loaded

Bomb Rating: 

The veneer of wholesomeness that covers a typical Disney movie almost always masks a seamy undercurrent roiling just beneath the surface.

The veneer of wholesomeness that covers a typical Disney movie almost always masks a seamy undercurrent roiling just beneath the surface. Movies that at first appear to be fun, family-friendly frolics quickly descend into Boschian nightmares of slaughtered deer, evil queens, dead or absent mothers, anorexic heroines, creepy sexual energy in places it simply doesn't belong or -- as recently reported in the case of "Herbie: Fully Loaded" -- the specter of dozens of underpaid technicians working double shifts to digitally mask Lindsay Lohan's heaving cleavage.

Marching in lockstep with the Disney formula, "Herbie: Fully Loaded" doesn't take long to find its dark side. The movie begins like a "Behind the Music" documentary that walks us through The Love Bug's downfall since we last saw him in theaters. I half expected to see a newspaper story about Herbie's role in a crack-den hooker double-homicide. Herbie's hit rock bottom, waiting to be scrapped in a junkyard, when Maggie (Lindsay Lohan) and her dad (Michael Keaton) stop by to get her a car for her graduation present. Mom is, of course, dead and absent.

Herbie's a bit more animated than his previous incarnation, and the result is less like "The Love Bug" and a whole lot more like "Christine." Herbie hits people with his hood, flings hubcaps at them, sprays oil on them, and bonds with new owner Maggie by locking her in for a death-defying street race with stock car champion Trip Murphy (Matt Dillon). With moving, lidded headlights for eyes, Herbie frequently mad-dogs people he's angry at, an effect just a shade less creepy than being locked in a cell at Abu Ghraib with those two little girls from "The Shining."

After losing the street race, Trip vows revenge, and the movie marches toward its inevitable conclusion where Herbie, Maggie and her entire stock-car racing family battle Trip on the race track while Disney subsidiary ESPN provides running commentary. One nice thing about a NASCAR theme, however, is that the product placements pretty much write themselves.

Even after being digitally de-titillated by Disney staffers (who no doubt afterward reevaluated their career choices), it's going to be hard for audiences to reconcile the wholesome Lindsay Lohan in this movie with the emaciated, peroxide-blonde, feud-prone L-Lo who's currently dominating the gossip rags. Hollywood's never been a healthy place for young women, but Lohan's rapid transformation from fresh-faced young star to hollowed-out member of the Paris Hilton skank posse really makes you realize that Hollywood isn't so much an entertainment hub as a vampire factory.

Expose your daughters at their own peril.

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