A MESSY MÉLANGE of spy flicks, Herbie the Love Bug race movies, and racing videogame bombast, Cars 2 plops a greasy little oil stain on Pixar's previously shiny name. This from a fan of 2006's Cars, a rather maligned and sweet little picture that never got the love it deserved. Pixar's newest is officially the redheaded stepchild in a family with impeccable breeding. Cars 2 is a product of the worst kind of group-think—a chop-shop jalopy vrooming all over the track with Larry the Cable Guy steering.

Cars was a touching nostalgia trip down Route 66. It had funny characters, beautiful scenery, some heartstring pullers about friends and family and remembering roadside America—it was a small picture, perfectly comfortable in its limited reach. Meanwhile Cars 2 decides to do it up big with globetrotting and decadent settings and important lessons, which scream things like, "Ain't our dependence on fossil fuels scary, kids?" Uh, ka-chow? It certainly attempts to be fun, with a kajillion sight gags and puns and Larry the Cable Guy trying to be likeable, but the damn flick's still preaching about peak oil for chrissakes.

The gist: Lightning McQueen (voiced by Owen Wilson) enters a globe-spanning race sponsored by a renewable energy company. Tagging along is his embarrassing best friend Mater (Cable Guy), a mentally challenged tow truck. Meanwhile, secret agent Finn McMissile (Michael Caine) is on the hunt for the identity of a saboteur of the Grand Prix, a mission in which Mater gets unwittingly involved. Mater's story is pretty similar to Cars 2's failure: Small-town rube gets lost in a whirl of flashy cars and slick homages, losing the quality that originally made it enjoyable.