'Cars 2' moves along, despite underpowered dramatic motor

  • Race car Lightning McQueen (Owen Wilson), left, joins tow truck Mater (Larry the Cable Guy) and spy car Finn McMissile in the action-packed "Cars 2."

    Race car Lightning McQueen (Owen Wilson), left, joins tow truck Mater (Larry the Cable Guy) and spy car Finn McMissile in the action-packed "Cars 2."

 
 
Posted6/23/2011 12:01 AM

Pixar's computer-animated sequel "Cars 2" races through record numbers of visual and verbal gags, and they fly by at such speed that multiple viewings may be required just to absorb them, let alone appreciate them.

That being noted, "Cars 2" represents another slight disappointment from Pixar, whose 2006 release "Cars" still ranks as the least impressive addition to the Pixar canon of excellent animated motion pictures.

 

"Cars" the sequel may be faster, noisier and funnier than the original, but it can't touch Pixar's "Ratatouille," "WALL-E," "Up" or "Toy Story 3" for the character development, clever plotting and animated innovation we've come to expect from Pixar.

If anything, "Cars 2" takes the low road by relying on lots of guns, bullets, explosions and car chases (as opposed to races) to fuel its narrative.

Back in Radiator Springs, exhausted race car hero Lightning McQueen (Owen Wilson) wants to take a pit stop and spend some idling time with his fiance Sally (Bonnie Hunt) and tow truck pal Mater (Larry the Cable Guy).

Then a cocky Italian racer named Francesco Bernoulli (John Turturro) challenges McQueen by virtually insulting the size of his engine.

So, McQueen agrees to meet Bernoulli in the World Grand Prix, a trilogy of races sponsored by Miles Axelrod (Eddie Izzard), an oil tycoon with plans to have the cars use his new green fuel that will revolutionize the world.

by signing up you agree to our terms of service
                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

But there's a fly wheel in the ointment.

The fuel can be explosive if hit with a super concentrated beam, and that's what two henchmen -- uh, henchcars -- do, blowing up the race cars under the direction of a mysterious arch-villain. What could be his auto-motive?

The plot is being investigated by British auto agent Finn McMissile (Michael Caine), whose concealed machine guns, oil slick release and 1960s stylings make him a dead ringer for James Bond's Aston Martin DB-5 in "Goldfinger."

(007 die-hards will also note a clever reference to "Goldfinger" when another auto agent winds up compressed into a giant block of crushed wreckage.)

McMissile receives help from Holly Shiftwell (Emily Mortimer), a research car drafted into action as a field agent with a classy chassis.

The action set pieces built around the conflict between these good spies and bad guys are spectacular, loud and frenetic, yet, they don't integrate smoothly with the movie's emotional subplot in which McQueen begins to regret bringing his bumpkin buddy Mater with him.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

The hick truck embarrasses McQueen all over the world, such as in Japan where Mater mistakes wasabi for ice cream.

Then, in a plot twist silly even for a movie about talking cars, McMissile and Shiftwell mistake Mater for their spy contact. (There's a limit to suspending disbelief, you know.)

The main message in "Cars 2" falls back on a dull old Disney chestnut to "be yourself," even when the story clearly illustrates the benefits of "not being yourself" under certain circumstances, such as hanging out in a foreign culture.

At one point near the end, "Cars 2" replays the entire movie through key moments in which Mater the tow truck acts like a dip stick.

Was this to expand the running time? Or did filmmakers worry that viewers couldn't remember what they had just seen during the past hour?

Either way, the segment feels gratuitous and bogs the film down. Otherwise, "Cars 2" (in both 2-D and 3-D versions) moves along nicely despite its underpowered dramatic engine.

In a nice touch, the late Paul Newman's character, Doc the Hudson Hornet, has gone to that great junkyard in the sky, and is honored by an award bearing his name.

Note: Before "Cars 2," be sure to catch a Pixar film short, a "Toy Story" Hawaiian vacation for Ken and Barbie. Minute for minute, it's actually better than the feature.