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The Secret origin of Herbie the Love Bug!
on January 30, 2001
Bruce Campbell is Hank Cooper, a flop of a racecar driver reduced to the role of an inattentive mechanic in a small autoshop. Hank's mind is still on serious racing, and it's seriously affecting his work. Everything is about to change for Hank though, because his boss, Chuck, has just entered him into a car repair and racing contest in which the winner will get to keep the junker he manages to fix and race with. When Hank's coworker and best friend, mechanic/installation artist Roddy, sympathizes with a broken down little VW bug that none of the other contestants want to work on, Hank gets sympathetic too. He selects the little beetle, our old friend "Number Fifty-Three," Herbie! Hank gets the engine running again, with a little horn-communication help from Herbie, translated by the very intuitive Roddy, and, after a late start, the little car and his driver blow the competition away! Suddenly, everyone is amazed by Hank, but even more-so by Herbie, whose name is made known thanks to a maker's inscription under his hood. Hank starts to get a bit jealous of the car's popularity, especially when everyone is ogling it at Roddy's art show. What bothers him even more though, is the lack of respect he gets from magazine reporter Alex Davis, an ex-girlfriend of Hank's who also gives all the credit for winning the race to the humble little Volkswagen. Despite his sour grapes, Hank and Herbie have already started forming a bond, and when he notices the troublemaking, extremely wealthy Simon Moore III, an old competitor of his, taking an unwelcome interest in Herbie, he doesn't like it. Hank comes to Herbie's defense, and he and the bug chase Simon away, but not before Simon gets a peak at Herbie's inscription and pockets Herbie's original VW key. Simon is determined to find out what makes Herbie tick, and to do so, he sends his lackey out to retrieve Herbie's creator, an aging German engineer by the name of Dr. Stumpfel. The doctor tells Simon a fascinating and magical story of how Herbie came to be such a "special" little car, a story reminiscent of the Powerpuff Girls in point of fact. Unfortunately, the doctor is confiding in the wrong person! Simon convinces him to create a second "magical car" using the stolen VW key, only this time, Simon adds his own flavor to the metal mix. The result is a solid black Volkswagen bug with a heart of steel and the mind of a vicious animal! When Herbie gets his feelings hurt one night and runs away from Hank and the gang, he encounters his evil twin, dubbed "Horace" by his equally wicked owner, in a dark and lonely alleyway. Horace makes short work of Herbie, and the destruction is so horrendous that we next see Herbie in a pine box surrounded by his mourning new friends. Enter a living legend: Jim Douglas (Dean Jones). Herbie's original race-driver, Jim knows the little car is more resilient than he looks. With the help of Jim and Dr. Stumpfel, the gang rebuilds Herbie using all his original parts. Everyone is biting nails when Jim is given the honor of starting Herbie up again and seeing if he's still "there." Luckily, he is, and the reunion between Jim and Herbie is more than a little tearful for us diehard fans. Still, this is Hank's adventure now, and Jim and Herbie bid each other a fond farewell. The good feelings don't last long though. Simon, driving by in his monstrous Volkswagen creation, notices that Herbie is somehow in one piece again! Determined to get the little bug out of his mind and prove that evil is stronger than good, he and Horace challenge Hank and Herbie to a racing duel! The winning driver getting to keep the loser's car!
The world of Herbie the racing Volkswagen bug has always had its continuity issues, none more severe than this little 1997 anomaly of a TV sequel, unoriginally titled "The Love Bug" and starring B-movie legend Bruce Campbell. True, Herbie doesn't look exactly perfect, but he still looks and acts like Herbie, and the key to a good Herbie film, a great cast, is still there. Acting quality aside, who doesn't love Bruce Campbell? And he fits the mechanic/wannabe racecar driver role well. Alexandra Wentworth is lovely and humorous as ex-girlfriend Alex Davis, and "Mummy" fans will be thrilled to see both John Hannah and Kevin J. O'Connor together again! Kevin makes a fine, modernized substitute for Buddy Hackett's Tennessee Steinmetz, and John makes a great spoiled rich-boy villain! And, for added fun, former "Monkee" Micky Dolenz even has a small role in this one! Of course, what makes this film a must-own for Herbie fans is the touching reunion between Dean Jones's Douglas character and Herbie the car! It truly brings a tear to the eye! The film itself is flawed, sure, but it's still a good, fun Herbie movie that lives up to the Herbie name! I'll ignore the lame reuse of the original film's title, even though it makes everyone, even Disney archivists, refer to this TV sequel as a remake(a real pet-peeve of mine!). Probably the only real flaws in this film are the origin story, the intensity of the final race, and the music. It's for these reasons that I bring it down a star from the previous "Love Bug" sequels. I can take the origin story; I think it's one of the things that makes this film "special" in the Herbie line. It's the major continuity flaw of the whole thing in my opinion, because it doesn't perfectly fit the ideas of the previous films, not to mention "Herbie: Fully Loaded," the most recent theatrical sequel that totally ignores this TV movie in its own continuity. Still, it doesn't EXACTLY counter the ideas of the previous films either. Yes, other Herbie movies include other "living" machines, but whose to say each doesn't have its own secret origin story? The idea that well-loved machines develop personalities was more theory than anything, and this origin plot doesn't totally deflect that theory. As for the final race, I will say that this should have been much more intense and should have looked faster. This is probably the most serious flaw in the film, because it actually has to do with the writing. There have been complaints of the CGI Herbie, perhaps this whole film was just an early test for the concept of future Herbie sequels like the wonderful "Fully Loaded," but in truth, it doesn't look any faker than SOME scenes in past Herbie sequels. I noticed some pretty bad effects during the bullfight in "Herbie Goes Bananas," a personal fave of mine... There's not A LOT of noticeable CGI in this film, so let's not overblow it. In truth, what bothers me the most about this 1997 "Love Bug," a film that I really like for the most part, is the music! Herbie's theme is nowhere to be heard! Instead, we get some typically bad TV movie background music, including a lame attempt at western showdown music that gets played quite a bit. If I could change only one thing about "Love Bug" 1997, it would be to add the original Herbie theme music in place of that stuff. Aside from that, I really find it a nice addition to the Herbie line. What makes it an anomaly is the fact that it is sadly disregarded in Herbie history now that "Herbie: Fully Loaded" is out there. And, I fear that the Lindsay Lohan hit, which I love, may keep this one from ever seeing a DVD release. I'll keep my fingers crossed though, and hope that 1997's "Love Bug" AND the short-lived TV series, make it onto DVD someday. Until then, I do recommend picking up this "Love Bug" SEQUEL on VHS today, even if only to see Dean Jones back in the driver's seat one more time!