When I was a freshman in college, I was obsessed with a sketch comedy show called “The State.” On MTV weeknights at 10 o’clock Central, it was pretty much the last procrastination point of the evening before I had to actually sit down and study. The show’s cast — Kevin Allison, Michael Ian Black, Robert Ben Garant, Todd Holoubek, Michael Patrick Jann, Kerri Kenney-Silver, Thomas Lennon, Joe Lo Truglio, Ken Marino, Michael Showalter, and David Wain — was only a few years older than me, and their attitude was younger, hipper, and more Dadaist than the increasingly stale “Saturday Night Live.” They made sketch comedy fresh again in the same way their forerunners in “SNL” and “Kids in the Hall” had in years past — by doing it with less restraint and less linear logic than the previous generation.
Since the show ended, I’ve watched with interest to see where its cast members would pop up again. They have continued to collaborate with surprising regularity; several worked together on “Viva Variety” and Wet Hot American Summer, and many are now involved in Comedy Central’s “Reno 911!” and the new “Stella.” I mention all this by way of showing my abiding affection for the troupe and my utter horror at what has become of two of its members. (I mention it also because I’d rather talk about anything besides this movie. Had your gallbladder out recently? Sure, I’d love to look at the scar.)
Thomas Lennon and Robert Ben Garant have now completed a hat trick of shame; their screenplays were behind last fall’s Taxi, this spring’s The Pacifier, and now Herbie: Fully Loaded. In each case, it’s hard to see how there was really any screenwriting to do; they just tossed some cliches into the pot — they didn’t even stir them around. Though it seems like a betrayal of their more avant-garde comedy backgrounds, you can’t say they’re prostituting their talent. They aren’t using it at all.
Neither is Lindsay Lohan, whom I adored in Freaky Friday and Mean Girls. The girl has lots of natural charm and a pretty decent range, but given her recent choices, both professional and personal, it’s questionable whether or not she’ll continue to develop it. And speaking of undeveloped talent, she appears in Herbie alongside Michael Keaton, who 10 or 15 years ago seemed like such a promising and underappreciated actor. Now he’s just kinda creepy, playing Lohan’s retired NASCAR driver dad as though he was a last-minute fill-in for Billy Bob Thornton at his most grizzled. Also, Matt Dillon plays an egomaniacal jackass. Nice to see him trying new things.
Oh, the plot? Something about a sentient car. I’m trying to block it out.
Herbie: Fully Loaded is the first family comedy that is clearly geared to that vaunted new demographic: the NASCAR Dad. The movie is overstuffed with mumbo jumbo about the love of racing and people having racing in their blood, and many real NASCAR drivers make cameos. It’s a brilliant strategy for product-placement purposes — in the racing world, virtually every surface is treated as advertising space — but I’m not sure that a film this schizoid can reach that audience, or any audience. The 14-year-old girls who would theoretically turn out for a Lindsay Lohan film probably are not so terribly interested in stock-car racing, while the similarly aged boys there to check out Lohan’s rack (reportedly reduced digitally in post-production, so they’ll be pretty disappointed) may like the racing element but not respond to the female-empowerment message (“I want to be the first female driver to take the Nextel Cup!”) and any adult who manages to sit through it all needs to be checked for frontal lobe damage.
I’ve never seen the previous Love Bug films — there’s only so much I’m willing to suffer in the name of research — but it seems entirely possible that every gag here is lifted from them. I know I’ve seen them all before, in any number of other movies. They have that special brand of artificiality and eye-rolling unfunniness that is the stock-in-trade of the live-action Disney comedies of the 1950s and ’60s. I’ve never been able to respond to it — even as a child it turned my stomach — but there have been plenty of devotees in the past, so maybe they’re still out there. I just hope I never have to meet them.
Jeremy C. Fox is a founding critic of Pajiba and a member of the Online Film Critics Society.You may email him at jeremycfox[at]gmail.com.
Herbie: Fully Loaded / Jeremy C. Fox
Film | May 13, 2006 | Comments ()