GENRE: Spy spoof on cruise control
THE PITCH: While famous racecar Lightning McQueen (Owen Wilson) competes in the World Grand Prix, British secret agent Finn McMissile (Michael Caine) mistakes Mater the tow truck (Larry the Cable Guy) for an American intelligence operative. Spy-jinks ensue.
MONEY SHOTS: Finn and rookie Holly Shiftwell (Emily Mortimer) have an arsenal of James Bond gadgets that allow them to scale walls, drive along cables, submerge underwater and fire all kinds of guns. The automotive versions of London, the Italian Riviera and especially Tokyo are visually splendid, in a videogame-backdrop kind of way. Some fun visual gags include a rental car throwing fuzzy dice at a casino craps table and Mater briefly imitating a "monster truck" a la Dracula.
COMPARATIVELY BEST PUN: As Mater boasts of his martial arts prowess, "I got me a black fan belt."
WORST PUN: When a Japanese chef identifies a condiment as "wasabi," Mater replies, "Oh, same ol' same ol' — what's up with you?"
BODY COUNT: About a half dozen times cars get "killed" just out of the frame, with one crushed into a junkyard cube in a reference to Goldfinger.
PRODUCT PLACEMENT: Finn is James Bond's car of choice, an Aston Martin DB5. In one of the film's cleverest conceits, the evil conspirators are all "lemons," i.e., Gremlins, Pacers and "Hugos."
SOUNDTRACK HIGHLIGHTS: Mater and Lightning's montage in Japan is accompanied by Weezer's cover of "You Might Think" by — wait for it — the Cars.
POP REFERENCES: Cars 2 features so many crowd scenes that the Easter eggs probably surpass human comprehension. Pixar winks to itself with a glimpse of Gusteau's restaurant from Ratatouille, a movie marquee for The Incredimobiles and an ad for "Lassetyre." Voice cameos include the likes of Darrell Waltrip, Brent Musburger and Jeff Gordon.
IN MEMORIAM: Three voice actors from the first film have passed away since 2006. Paul Newman's Doc Hudson is written out with a nice tribute, George Carlin's Fillmore is recast with Lloyd Sher and animator Joe Ranft's Red appears on screen, but seems to have no dialogue.
HEY, WAIT A MINUTE: The film critiques "Big Oil" and how fossil fuel comes from dinosaurs, but shouldn't that be something like dinocars?
EXTRAS: The cast of Toy Story, particularly Ken and Barbie, return for "Hawaiian Vacation," which feels like a stunt to attract audiences. A 3-D converted version of the "Circle of Life" number promotes this fall's re-release of The Lion King. The brief teaser for Pixar's 2012 Scottish adventure Brave looks quite exciting, though.
BETTER THAN THE ORIGINAL? No. The first film conformed to stale Hollywood formulae but showed genuine nostalgia for classic car culture and roadside attractions. Rather than deepening the character relationships like the Toy Story sequels, Cars 2 presents the kind of breezy but trivial story worthy of a straight-to-DVD release.
THE FINISH LINE: Pixar's winning streak finally runs out with the most disposable, insubstantial film they've offered. Cars 2 delivers plenty of flashy effects, but it's like a vehicle with a groovy paint job but nothing under the hood.