The best way to see “Cars 3” is through 3-D glasses. At times, the animation is so remarkable as to appear lifelike.
An even better way to see “Cars 3” would be through John Lasseter’s glasses.
Lasseter, the chief creative officer of Pixar, has an enthusiasm for this bland franchise — he wrote the original’s script, directed the first two and executive produced the third, as well as the spinoffs “Planes” and “Planes: Fire & Rescue” — that seems to far outweigh that of the public as well as the quality of the movies.
In his third outing, Lightning McQueen (voiced by Owen Wilson) has been on top of the Piston Cup series for a decade. But his hold on that title is slipping thanks to next-generation racer Jackson Storm (Armie Hammer).
Everything about Storm is high tech, including his virtual training simulator. And with his unrivaled success, more next-gen racers follow, forcing all of Lightning’s friends to retire or lose their jobs.
To give Lightning every advantage to return to victory circle, brothers Dusty (Ray Magliozzi) and Rusty (the late Tom Magliozzi) sell his sponsor, Rust-eze, to mudflap magnate Sterling (Nathan Fillion), who builds him a state-of-the-art compound complete with a personal trainer, Cruz Ramirez (Cristela Alonzo). But when Lightning still isn’t improving enough to challenge Storm, Sterling gives him an ultimatum: Win the season’s first race or he’ll retire Lightning to a life as a product pitchman.
Lightning is obsessed with going out on his own terms, unlike his mentor Doc “The Hudson Hornet” Hudson (Paul Newman), so he seeks out Doc’s trainer, Smokey (Chris Cooper), and other retired racing legends at Doc’s former dirt track.
While Storm is on his cutting-edge simulator, Lightning is being trained using unconventional old-school methods. So “Cars 3” is basically “Rocky IV” — minus the geopolitics and that glorious James Brown production number — with a little of “The Karate Kid” thrown in, along with pretty much every sports movie cliche ever.
Pixar storyboard artist Brian Fee makes his directing debut with a script by Kiel Murray (“Cars”), Bob Peterson (“Finding Nemo,” “Up”) and Mike Rich (“Secretariat”). Only in Hollywood can it take three people to write something that just meets the minimum threshold of a plot.
“Cars 3” is little more than a 109-minute reminder that the great Paul Newman is no longer with us. The movie’s “villain” isn’t even a bad guy, he’s just young and cocky, much like Lightning was in the original.
There’s plenty of feminism for the post-”Wonder Woman” crowd. But the wisest decision the “Cars 3” team makes is in scaling back the presence of Larry the Cable Guy’s Mater.
Like most of the residents of Radiator Springs, Mater is pushed to the background. But he’s still there long enough to utter Larry’s trademark Git-R-Done.
Hopefully, everyone at Pixar, which is responsible for some of the finest movies of the past two decades, will heed his advice and git this franchise done already.
Contact Christopher Lawrence at email@example.com or 702-380-4567. Follow @life_onthecouch on Twitter.