The summer blockbuster seasons roars into theaters with Cars 2, the rip-snorting sequel to the popular Pixar film that made “Lightning McQueen” and “Mater” household names. Well, that is, if your household is overrun with kids of a certain age. Cars was a loving ode to all things automatic, inconceivably making four-wheeled vehicles cool and cuddly at the same time. At the same time, it played to a collective nostalgia for the thrill of the open road, a time when a Sunday drive wasn’t weighed down by the guilt of wasting gas.
Cars 2 is a completely different animal, one that seems to have been hatched out of a corporate think tank whose purpose was to figure out what would sell tickets—and merchandise. Lightning McQueen (Owen Wilson) and his dimwitted tow-truck buddy Mater (Larry the Cable Guy) leave the environs of Radiator Springs to embark on a series of international races, engineered by Francisco Bernouli (John Turturro). Somewhere between London and Tokyo, Mater gets embroiled in a sinister spy plot, a silly bit of James Bondian fluff complete with Brit secret agents Finn McMissle (Michael Caine) and Holley Shiftwell (Emily Mortimer). It’s loud, it’s incoherent, it’s 3-D.
One of the main problems with Cars 2 is the fact that it shifts the lead from the likeable McQueen to Mater; having this cornpone bumpkin carry the weight of nearly two hours of film is questionable, at best. There’s only so much of the fish-out-of-water—or in this case, the car-out-of-its-element—shtick that one can take, and even the infusion of the semi-sophisticated, David Niven-esque Brit secret agent can’t polish up a drab plot. The folks at Pixar insert a lot of feel-goodisms about alternative fuels and being true to yourself, but no amount of proselytizing can gloss over the fact that this movie is really mediocre.