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IN SHORT: Cars via James Bond. [Rated G. 107 minutes]
Actually, according to creator John Lasseter, this sequel is based more on "The Man From U.N.C.L.E." which, if you remember it first-hand, means you'll be taking your own kidlets to this film. Depending on when you read this review and how you see Cars 2, you may be treated to a Toy Story cartoon called "Hawaiian Vacation" before the feature begins, also courtesy Lasseter and the folk at Disney/Pixar. Barbie and Ken's first kiss. Need we say more? The big combo of 'toon and feature presents an entertainment that, to use the proper terminology, "fires on all cylinders". Start to finish, the big screen offers up a great sit. Now on to our feature . . .
"Doc Hudson" is now just a name on a garage turned racing museum in in the desert town of Radiator Springs. This is John Lasseter's tribute to the late Cars actor Paul Newman, and it's sweet, but life goes on for all the models of all the autos in the town as the heroic Lightning McQueen (Owen Wilson) comes home following whatever happened in Cars. [You know. We know. But anyone else shouldn't have to know the last movie to enjoy this one. Credit Lasseter and crew; you can walk in cold and be up to speed in no time.]
Lightning McQueen isn't really in the mood to start racing again. Lightning's return to Radiator Springs is met with joy and celebration. Best pal Tow Mater (Larry the Cable Guy) -- (proprietor of Tow Mater Towing and Salvage) -- latches on to his BFF and won't let go all day. Lightning, as happy as he is to see Mater, just wants a date with Sally Carrera (Bonnie Hunt), the Porsche who has had an eye on him for, like, ever. The most difficult part of the date, though, is getting the notion through what passes for Mater's brain, that the evening is meant to be for two. Not two and a tow truck.
While Lightning and Sally begin their dinner date -- with a waiter who looks suspiciously like Tow Mater -- the world is rocked by an announcement by Sir Miles Axlerod (Eddie Izzard) of his creation of a new fuel, Allinol ("all-in-01") that will replace gasoline. To promote his fuel, Axelrod will sponsor a series of races, all cars welcome (as long as they use non-gasoline fuel), to span the world. The races begin in Tokyo and will continue in Italy, Paris and London.
With the announcement comes the boast by Italian Formula 1 racer Francesco Bernoulli (John Turturro) that (he) is the fastest in the world. Mater (Larry The Cable Guy), forgetting his water duties, calls in to the program to defend his pal. Eventually Lightning hears the ruckus and before you know it, the World Grand Prix has become a sort of grudge match between the NASCAR styled American and the open-wheeled Indy style Italian. Lightning decides to bring Mater along with his team, because he's left his pal behind in the past.
What none of our players know is that there is a super secret spy game playing out behind the scenes. It pits debonair British agent Finn McMissile (Michael Caine) and his rookie partner Holley Shiftwell (Emily Mortimer) against evil Professor Z (Thomas Kretschmann), a weapons designer with a monocle, and his own team consisting of Grem (Joe Mantegna) and Acer (Peter Jacobson) both remnants of the now out of business AMC Motors <vbg>. The Professor has discovered a flaw in the new fuel -- it can be triggered to blow up when it's not supposed to -- and built a weapon, disguised like a television camera, to make all the classy racers go bye-bye.
Mater doesn't know is that, early in the film, he will be tagged by an American secret agent with a spy message thingie that is to be retrieved by the British secret agents. The pair know they are to rendezvous with an American. They just don't know which American -- the agent in question is reported to be an expert in disguise. Why wouldn't he look like a hick tow truck from America's hinterlands?
A furious battle in the streets and bathrooms of Tokyo interferes with the first race enough that Lightning actually loses (!! gasp!!) to Bernoulli. Lightning is angry but the British agents are thrilled at the chops of Mater, "the spy". It takes Mater a wee bit of time to figure out the compliment. He's too upset for messing up his pal's race. So Mater quits and tries -- emphasis tries -- to go home. Slowly Cars 2 turns into Mater's star gig, not Lightning's.
The spy doohickey thing? It's a television camera. Mater's been tagged with?... a photo of engine parts. The only car smart enough to figure out what it all means? Guess. Then there's a big meeting of all the baddies, tracking the races and the effects of their weapon - disguised as a television camera - on all the race cars packed with the new fuel. With transport supplied by Siddeley (Jason Isaacs), a state-of-the-art British twin-engine spy jet, Mater, Finn and Holly follow the Grand Prix from Japan to Italy, Paris and London and do their best to save the world, in the process.
As usual Cars 2 is stuffed with all sorts of in jokes as famous cities and landmarks become Car-fied. John Ratzenberger, Pixar's good luck charm makes his appearance as Mack. Numerous name actors have their own bits (actors love animation. Not only do they not have to shlep all around the world, they can show the work to their kids) so add Tony Shalhoub, Cheech Marin, Vanessa Redgrave and real life racers Jeff Gordon, Darrell Waltrip, Lewis Hamilton to the credit list.
But by far the best gag turns television commentator Brent Musburger into "Brent Mustangburger" who provides color commentary for all World Grand Prix races.
Family films only get a thumbs up/down from us, since it is usually the parents being nagged by their kids to see a film. Designed to unlock the inner boy in us grown ups (Cranky can't speak for the ladies) Cranky got at least half a dozen belly laughs from Cars 2. The little ones in and around us were bouncing in their seats and clapping, too.
So take the kids if you got 'em. Toonheads like Cranky get to enjoy the big screen show and then buy the DVD so we can hit the "slow" button and search out all the hidden bits. There's always something there that we missed the first time through.
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