WHEN Cars was released in 2006 it received a lukewarm response from critics. It failed to live up to the lofty standard that Pixar had established with Toy Story, Monsters Inc. and Finding Nemo.

Given Pixar’s commitment to quality, what reason could there be for a sequel?

Well, let’s see, Cars did smash records for merchandising revenue, totalling more than a staggering $5 billion, so could that be a factor?

And, more importantly, can Cars 2 put the polish on the franchise’s lacklustre characters?

Sadly not, as Cars 2, although starting well, rapidly becomes a choking cloud of pretty exhaust fumes, that coughs, splutters and eventually dies with characters you couldn’t care less about, a poor gag rate and a depressingly dull storyline.

News Shopper: MOVIE REVIEW: Cars 2 **

Cars 2 has a promising start and centres on the adventures of Finn McMissle (Sir Michael Caine), an Aston Martin-style car, as he infiltrates a secret oil drilling facility.

Using a plethora of James Bond-esque gadgets he uncovers a plot by Professor Z to make the world dependent on fossil fuels.

It’s a fun introduction, exciting and pacey but it’s abruptly cut short when we return to the sleepy town of Radiator Springs, where hick pickup truck Mater (Larry The Cable Guy) is excited by the return of his best friend Lightning McQueen who has become something of celebrity.

News Shopper: MOVIE REVIEW: Cars 2 **

They’re soon off to race in a variety of locations to promote a new type of eco-friendly fuel but Mater is unwittingly taken to be an American undercover agent by McMissle and subsequently gets embroiled in a plot to stop Professor Z and his nefarious scheme.

There’s no faulting Pixar’s design, which is glossy, gorgeously detailed and smoothly animated as you’d expect but without a decent story or compelling characters there’s no movie.

Following the exploits of a vehicular superspy is intriguing but Cars 2’s returning characters are not.

But in order to establish continuity with the first film’s characters, there has to be an excuse to work them into the narrative which is a huge mistake.

News Shopper: MOVIE REVIEW: Cars 2 **

There’s just no sense of individuality – you can’t simply slap eyes and a mouth on a car and call it a character and Lightning McQueen, the main character from the first film, is about as boring as it’s possible to get.

In fact the only character with a discernable personality is Mater, which probably accounts for his promotion to the lead, but he’s so teeth-grindingly irritating at the best of times that his every appearance is galling and saps the life and pace out of nearly every scene.

Without character, it’s impossible to care about their fates and as most action involves endlessly repetitive and tame racing scenes, it very quickly gets boring.

News Shopper: MOVIE REVIEW: Cars 2 **

Most of the jokes are also painfully obvious and fall flat, so even humour can't lift its tedium.

Not to mention how illogical the Cars universe is anyway – do they inhabit a post-apocalyptic world in which humans have been obliterated and vehicles have achieved sentience? Why do they have luggage? Why would a car eat wasabi?

It’s a shame because usually Pixar films are ones to look forward to and the studio has made some of the very best animated films.

Cars 2 is unfortunately a smoking jalopy of a film which should be towed to a scrap yard and crushed into a cube.

Cars 2 (U) is released on Friday.