Cars 2: Life in the Breakdown Lane

Pixar's Cars franchise takes a sharp turn from NASCAR mayhem and red-state-targeted '50s nostalgia to 007 espionage with the upgraded sequel Cars 2, though in its delivery of Matchbox-machine superheroics for its young male demographic, it stays true to its prime function as an advertising vehicle for merchandise. Nonetheless, if this shift can't stave off monotony, it's still welcome, as the series at least dispatches with conservative cultural pandering in favor of be-yourself platitudes and pro-environment messages. High-speed pursuits revolve around hot-rod Lightning McQueen's (Owen Wilson) participation in a globe-trotting world grand prix, during which his redneck tow-truck BFF, Mater (Larry the Cable Guy), is mistaken for a spy by a British secret agent (Michael Caine), becoming embroiled in a plot involving outmoded auto "lemons" and alternative green fuels. Director John Lasseter's 3-D-enhanced animation sparkles, but it can't energize centerpieces lacking in suspense, and shoving bumbling sidekick Mater into the spotlight does little to offset the dullness.


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