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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Like reruns? Get in line

The Spokesman-Review

Seriously, now, the offerings in movie theaters can’t get much lamer than they are at this very moment.

Consider the three movies released just this week:

•”Herbie: Fully Loaded”: sequel.

•”Land of the Dead”: sequel (or at the very least the continuation of a series).

•”Bewitched”: adaptation of a television series.

And note this: The No. 1 movie at the box office is “Batman Begins” (a prequel and continuation of a series), and No. 4 “Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith” boasts a title that pretty much says it all.

And coming up? July 1 gives us “War of the Worlds” (remake). July 8? “Fantastic Four” (comic book adaptation) and “Dark Water” (adaptation of a Japanese film). July 15? “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” (remake). July 22? “Bad News Bears” (remake).

You get the idea.

There’s an obvious question here: Where did all the originality go? But the even more pressing question is this: How is it that we’re so willing to sit back and accept such bland movie menu items?

Look, this is not to say that some of these movies have nothing to offer. I’m as excited as anyone about Steven Spielberg tackling H.G. Wells’ novel about aliens attacking Earth. Even though Gene Wilder will always be Willie Wonka to me, Johnny Depp could make a decently eccentric owner of a chocolate factory (especially with Tim Burton directing).

And then there’s Billy Bob Thornton taking over the Walter Matthau role as the liquor- challenged coach of a youth baseball team. Any movie that’s basically “Bad Santa Takes the Mound” is bound to offer a few laughs.

All this aside, though, don’t we already have enough numbing hypnosis on television, what with such surreality shows as NBC’s “I Want to Be a Hilton” to choose from? Shouldn’t we expect more from the big screen?

Let’s take the new “Herbie” movie as an example.

“Herbie” began back in 1969 as a Disney film titled “The Love Bug,” which stars Dean Jones as a down-on-his-luck race-car driver who encounters the Volkswagen Beetle that, carrying mysterious humanlike emotions, makes “his” new owner into the racer he has always wanted to be. Or so the bumbling human thinks.

Never known for passing up a chance to run a successful formula into the ground, Disney kept the “Herbie” franchise going. Over the next three decades we had “Herbie Rides Again” (1974, starring the actor Ken Berry, who took over for Andy Griffith on “Mayberry R.F.D.”), “Herbie Goes to Monte Carlo” (1977), “Herbie Goes Bananas” (1980) and “The Love Bug” (1997, a remake with Bruce Campbell playing both the hero and the villain).

If all that weren’t enough, “Herbie” was a short-lived (five episodes) 1982 television series, again starring Jones.

And now we have “Herbie: Fully Loaded,” which is little more than a vehicle for Lindsay Lohan, the 19-year-old actress who made impressions in 1998’s “The Parent Trap” (remake), 2003’s “Freaky Friday” (remake) and last year’s “Mean Girls.”

Lohan stars as Maggie Peyton, the younger child of former NASCAR champion Ray Peyton (Michael Keaton), but the one who has inherited not only dad’s ability but his will to win. Only, of course, he can’t see it – not because he’s sexist, you understand, but because she reminds him of his late wife and, as he says, “I can’t lose you twice.”

Then Herbie steps in. Long ago abandoned following a complete breakdown of his once-brilliant racing career, the VW Bug with feelings is facing demolition until Maggie stumbles along.

Here’s what quickly follows: Herbie tricks Maggie into buying him; “he” becomes re-energized (never explained) and helps her beat the arrogant driver Trip Murphy (Matt Dillon); “he” feels hurt when she tries to win a more stylish ride in a match race; she has to track “him” down to set things right, setting them both up for the big race that sums the movie up neater than Felix Unger’s kitchen sink.

As I say, there’s nothing wrong with this. The screenplay has all the moral qualities that Disney is known for, and it avoids most, though not all, of the more obvious racial and sexist stereotypes of the 1968 original.

But as Peggy Lee once sang, “Is that all there is?” Has moviegoing been reduced merely to seeing material long available for home viewing but on a big screen with Dolby sound and stadium seats?

Looks like it. And the sad thing is we stand in line to see it.

Again and again. And again.