Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Movie Review: Herbie Rides Again

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Fun story filled with lots of laughs
Cons: Some less than perfect effects, plenty of 70's cheese
The Bottom Line
Cheesy and corny
But kid in me doesn't care
Still plenty of fun

"Why Would a Shark be Following a Volkswagen?"

Sometimes you wonder what goes through people's minds when creating a sequel.  Take Herbie Rides Again.  It was released 5 years after The Love Bug.  The only returners to the franchise were the title VW bug and Robert Stevenson as director.  They take off in a completely different direction, leaving race car driving in the dust.  Then for a villain, they bring in an actor and character from a different franchise from 13 years earlier.  And yet, it works.

Alonzo Hawk (Keenan Wynn) has made a fortune tearing down old buildings and putting in modern high rises and shopping centers.  His latest project is Hawk Towers, a 130 story two towered building that is dominate the San Francisco skyline.  There's just one problem.  Mrs. Steinmetz (Helen Hayes) doesn't want to sell the firehouse she's lived in since she married the late Captain Steinmetz.

So Hawk sends his fresh out of law school nephew, Willoughby Whitfield (Ken Berry) in his latest attempt to talk her into moving.  Not only does he find Mrs. Steinmetz unwilling to budge, but he finds she also has the beautiful and feisty Nicole Harris (Stefanie Powers) living with her, and she's not going to budge either.

Also in the mix is Herbie, the VW who thinks for himself.  He has been left in Mrs. Steinmetz's care.  He is fiercely loyal to the widow.  As Willoughby beings to see the light, will he switch sides?  Even if he helps, will this ragtag group protect the firehouse from Hawk?

Okay, this is a Disney movie.  I bet you can guess the outcome right now, although a few of the detours along the way are surprising.  But predictable plotting is never an automatic killer for me.

While it is surprising to see a sequel that detours so far from the original.  Most of the time, it feels that sequels are just retreads of the original, which certainly isn't the case here.  We do get some flashbacks to the race scenes from the first one early on, but otherwise this one hardly mentions racing.

It's also surprising that they used Keenan Wynn as his character from the two Absent Minded Professor movies in the early 60's.  This was the first place I'd seen his character, so when he showed up in those earlier movies, I was very surprised.  There's no obvious connection between the two other than the character.  Why they didn't just rename him is a puzzle, but there you have it.

Now let's be honest, this movie is cheesy and corny.  I certainly don't blame the actors because they do their best to keep things grounded and believable.  Okay, so Keenan Wynn is over the top as Hawk, but it works in the film.  But when you have a movie around a car that thinks for itself, you're gong to be left with cheese and corn.  Plus it's the 70's, and that seemed to be a big part of the Disney output from that time, at least in the live action department.

And yet that is much of the charm for me.  I first saw this movie as a kid, and loved it at the time.  And as soon as I put it in again, I'm transported back to that mindset.  Yes, I can see the cheese and how outrageous the plot and the scenes are, but I love it anyway.  How can you not love a car chasing a man around his office as foam bubble fill it or a car going for a swim?  There are just so many great laughs here.

The movie is full of special effects, many of them involving Herbie himself, who drives, opens doors, and other things all my himself.  Those are all great.  I did discover that there are lots of green screen shots I never remembered seeing before, and those are obviously fake.

But this is a movie aimed squarely at kids.  And I think they will quickly get caught up in the antics of the car and the plot to save the farmhouse and miss those less than perfect moments or the over the top nature of the story.  I know I loved every minute of it as a kid.  Adults?  Well, if they aren't familiar with Herbie, they'll probably think it's a horrid film.  But if they loved these movies as a kid, they won't be able to resist as an adult.

So if you are new to Herbie, you might not like Herbie Rides Again.  But if you grew up loving him, the movie will override your objections as an adult, and you'll be having fun again before you know it.  And your kids will find it delightful.

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