Time has not been kind to the once championship-winning Volkswagen Beetle Herbie, a car with a life of its own. Now forgotten, he has been sold to a scrap metal merchant's yard, although it has taken the mechanic selling him quite a lot of bother to even get the car onto the back of the truck to take it to its final resting place. Crazy Dave (Jeremy Roberts) is the owner and regards his new acquisition as a heap of junk, an estimation that Herbie takes offence at so squirts him with oil and propels a hubcap in his general direction. This doesn't endear him to Dave and things look bleak for the car until Maggie (Lindsay Lohan), the daughter of a racing driver, arrives looking for cheap transportation...
Perhaps the most predictable motion picture in the history of the medium, Herbie Fully Loaded saw a return to the big screen for the product placement-tastic Disney franchise, of which only the first instalment had really been much good. About ten years of retreads and cash-ins after that initial success had blunted Herbie's appeal and although there had been a television series and a TV movie following those, they had been largely overlooked and the character was chiefly considered only fit for nostalgia. Which was pretty much what audiences got for their money with Fully Loaded.
Fortunately this strongly indicated the team of scriptwriters working on the film understood the appeal of the mischievous motor. There are no satirical or post modern gags here, the car is the star and his goofy antics and, perhaps most importantly, underdog status powered the plotting. The fact that The Love Bug is a car with a personality is accepted by the rest of the cast, the ones that understand its behaviour at any rate, and after a brief, bumpy period of introduction where the filmmakers tease us with Maggie not making up her mind about whether to keep him or not we can settle into the main story.
Herbie needs a rival to come off best, and our villain is a curiously-cast Matt Dillon as Trip Murphy, an arrogant race champ who ticks off both Maggie and Herbie. After Herbie takes petty revenge at a car show, Trip challenges him to an impromptu competition, a street race that sees the professional beaten by the amateur. Now he is the one annoyed and after the negative publicity opts to challenge the little car to a proper race, and so on with no surprises save an interlude in the middle where Herb believes Maggie has rejected him, which she sort of has. Although the eternal question of why Herbie needs someone behind the wheel at all is not answered.
Not to worry, as a happy ending is sorted out well before the finish line. About the most controversial thing about the film was a peculiar urban myth around it: Lohan had prudishly had her bosom reduced thanks to the special effects men working on their computers, but this was untrue. However, although Lohan gets a romance with mechanic Kevin (Justin Long) and is the driver of the title character, she is overshadowed by Herbie throughout. Looking back from a perspective after her personal issues hit the headlines, there may be some novelty in seeing her in such a wholesome movie, but it could have been any starlet filling the role. Mainly this is worth it for fans of the series, because Herbie is what matters here; he even gets a romance himself (with a younger model - typical Hollywood) and there's plenty of race action. Music by Mark Mothersbaugh, although the famous theme does get an airing.