Synopsis: Star racecar Lightning McQueen (voice of Owen Wilson) and the incomparable tow truck Mater (voice of Larry the Cable Guy) take their friendship to exciting new places in “Cars 2” when they head overseas to compete in the first-ever World Grand Prix to determine the worldâs fastest car. But the road to the championship is filled with plenty of potholes, detours and hilarious surprises when Mater gets caught up in an intriguing adventure of his own: international espionage. Mater finds himself torn between assisting Lightning McQueen in the high-profile race and towing the line in a top-secret mission orchestrated by master British super spy Finn McMissile (voice of Michael Caine) and the stunning rookie field spy Holley Shiftwell (voice of Emily Mortimer). Materâs action-packed journey leads him on an explosive chase through the streets of Japan and Europe, trailed by his friends and watched by the whole world. The fast-paced fun includes a colorful new all-car cast, complete with menacing villains and international racing competitors.
Release Date: June 24, 2011 MPAA Rating: PG-13
Genre(s): Animation, Children and Family
Cars 2 represents such a dearth of imagination, energy and charm I’m almost loath to waste words describing the extent to which it fails as a film. The heroes of the Cars, championship racer Lightning McQueen (Owen Wilson) and his tow truck best friend Mater (Larry the Cable Guy) return to Radiator Springs for about a second before they’re off racing in the World Grand Prix, a globe-trotting contest devised by Sir Miles Axlerod (Eddie Izzard), a former oil magnate using the race as a testing ground for his new alternative fuel, Allinol. Also interested in the race are British spies Finn McMissile (Michael Caine) and Holley Shiftwell (Emily Mortimer), tracking a stolen weapon the nefarious and mysterious baddie is poised to use to sabotage the Grand Prix. All the while, Lightning is battling with a boastful Italian Formula One racer (John Turturro, way over-the-top) and his conflicted affection for Mater whose embarrassing behavior is a constant thorn in Lightning’s side. The sequel to Pixar’s Cars is, for most of its runtime, and for no discernible reason, a spy movie. In a clumsy and predictable move to meld the world of racing and the world of espionage, Mater is mistaken for an American agent in deep cover and so joins Finn and Holly in their super suave investigations.
I didn’t care about any of these characters. Perhaps that’s because I didn’t see the first Cars, but even still, any sequel should supply reason enough for me to get invested in its stakes. Here, the stakes are almost non-existent. We know that Lightning McQueen will eventually win the Grand Prix. We know that Mater, though an unfunny buffoon, will eventually gain self-acceptance, save the day and get the girl. Everyone will learn a valuable lesson in friendship.
Most egregious is the film’s central “mystery,” the one that takes up most of the plot machinations and character efforts (not to mention the overlong runtime): who’s sabotaging the Grand Prix? Within thirty seconds of his introduction, it’s painfully obvious Miles Axlerod is the culprit. As obviously as Finn McMissle is the James Bond of the Cars world, Axelrod is obviously the Bond villain; a five year old could figure it out. The film doesn’t even have the courtesy to throw in a red herring or two to keep things interesting. What we do get is a tacked-on subplot about Axelrod’s henchmen, all undesirable makes and models (“lemons”), and some lazy moralizing about alternative fuels.
On the whole, the film is probably not as terrible as my ire suggests; it is only truly heinous because of the Pixar brand and the level of quality that brand has come to represent. Yes, Cars 2 is boring, lifeless, and by-the-numbers. By any measure, the film is a failure; but with the triumphs of masterpieces like Wall-E and Up still fresh in mind, such uninspired dreck is especially baffling. Why was this film made? Cars 2 simply doesn’t have a story to tell. It must be viewed ultimately as a wasted opportunity, an abuse of the talent and imagination of a studio fully capable of making exciting, inspiring entertainment.
There is not a laugh to be found in Cars 2-not a one. Oh, there’s plenty of “humor,” as embodied by Mater, the rusty good ol’ boy tow truck voiced by Larry the Cable Guy, but Mater’s humor consists almost entirely of commenting on the action as it happens, a sophomoric approach that kills any potential wit and grates the nerves faster even more than the film’s juvenile scatological gags. Mater’s repeated catchphrase, “Dat’s funny right there!”, ostensibly used to punctuate jokes (though it’s just as often a crutch for jokes that fall flat), is a painfully ironic reminder of just how maddeningly unfunny the film, and especially Mater, truly is. Larry the Cable Guy is completely humorless in the role and totally lacks the gravitas or believability to carry a film.
Indeed, the film’s primary mistake is promoting Mater from sidekick to main character. This leaves Lightning McQueen to play-forgive me-third wheel to Mater and McMissle, who, the film suggests, might take center stage as the heroic British superspy. But Cars 2 can’t decide what kind of movie it wants to be: spy thriller, buddy comedy, or sports flick. Coincidently, the humor in the film suffers, never quite striking a tone that works. Perhaps this is why Finn and Lightning keep popping up for their own action sequences, but never emerge fully as co-leads. Ultimately, the audience can’t care for any of them, so scattered is the film’s focus and casually offhanded the treatment of its characters.
The film is also full of lazy cultural stereotypes masquerading as comic scenarios: a large chunk of the film is spent morphing a gag about wasabi (it’s spicy!) into a gag about Japanese bathrooms (they’re different!). Much of the humor and plotting is pulled from other movies (the flamboyant Italian racecar driver was done first, and much funnier, in Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby). As a testament to the thuddingly obvious choices in the film, one of the songs on the soundtrack is by none other than, of course, The Cars. As a testament to the quality of the picture, it’s actually a cover of a Cars song-yes, folks, not even “The Cars” want to be in Cars 2.
Owen Wilson also sounded like he wanted to escape, giving a sleepy and totally disengaged vocal performance as Lightning. For much of the film, it often seemed we were in competition to see who was more bored by the experience: the actor, having to embody a lifeless character in a listless script, or me, the poor sap who had to sit through it.
Cast and Crew
- Director(s): John Lasseter
- Producer(s): Ben Queen
- Screenwriter(s): Owen Wilson (voice of Lightning McQueen)Michael Caine (voice of Finn NcMissile)Emily Mortimer (voice of Holley Shiftwell)
- Story: Eddie Izzard (voice of Sir Miles Axlerod)
- Cast: John Turturro (voice of Francesco Bernoulli)Brent Musburger (voice of Brent Mustangburger)Joe Mantegna (voice of Grem) Thomas Kretschmann (voice of Professor Z)
- Cinematographer: Michael Giacchino
- Production Designer(s):
- Costume Designer:
- Casting Director(s):
- Music Score:
- Music Performed By:
- Country Of Origin: USA