.Pity the Fuel

VRROOM WITH A VIEW: Finn McMissile gets involved in vehicular espionage in ‘Cars 2.’

LIKE SELLING STOCKS, making films is a division of gambling, and every streak ends at some point. The sad news about Cars 2 is mitigated by the hope that it might just be a temporary slump for Pixar. Cars 2 is a Bond parody, and it’s the stale kind, with a bumpkin mistaken for a secret agent.

British agent Finn McMissile (a sentient Aston Martin voiced by Michael Caine) is on the trail of a mysterious group led by a monocled Zundapp Janus known as Professor Z. Events lure Lightning McQueen (voiced by Owen Wilson) into a race demonstrating alternative fuels in Paris, London and Tokyo; tagging along is his gauche tow-truck buddy from Radiator Springs. Tow Mater attracts the attention of McMissile’s assistant Holley Shiftwell (Emily Mortimer), as curvy as a Miata, who stays as subordinate as the 007 girls of three decades ago.

It’s not that Cars 2 is really bad; it’s just that it’s cute and relentless, and paced to tickle 5-year-olds, leaving no after-images for adults. The comedy is gear-headed (the strange gauge of British Standard Whitworth tools being essential to a mystery); even the spelling of Holley’s first name is an in-joke for car fanciers.

The heart of the matter—the class-crossing friendship between a yokel and a celebrity—is synthetic as possible. The blame has to go to the sophisticated comedy stylings of Larry the Cable Guy, Tow Mater’s voice. And there’s a new emphasis on bathroom humor: Pixar usually had too much class to go there. Admittedly, the Ginza scenes are more of an eyeful than the toy-Tokyo Gaspar Noe built for Enter the Void. But the passing light shows are like Speed Racer, and the desert scenes, dimmed by 3-D, don’t have the colors and clarity of the first Cars.

Even NASCAR fans might admit there should have been an interior story with some heft in it here. The debate between regular fuel and fossil fuels ends with such nervousness you’d think it was a matter of real controversy. There’s got to be a way to find the grounds between soapboxing and treating a well-accepted idea as viable: that kind of triangulation used to be the method that made Pixar more than just a sum of its own technology.

Cars 2

G

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