Race to Witch Mountain is a blandly entertaining, forgettable Disney remake that should appeal to the masses
Race to Witch Mountain is the latest remake landing at the box-office, and should find itself in fierce competition with some superheroes watching over theaters. Witch Mountain is an adequately entertaining but silly, bland mix of sci-fi, family film and action-adventure and a star vehicle for Dewayne “The Rock” Johnson that should find appeal with the masses. Disney remakes its own 1975 Escape to Witch Mountain with a mish-mash of special effects and a baffling story, but give them credit - it’s not as cheesy as it looks and actually improves upon the original film. While still not a great movie, there’s enough to engage in a nice 95-minute family outing.
Johnson is Jack Bruno, a Las Vegas cab driver and ex-felon with a cynical attitude and a long list of bills to pay. He’s driving costumed nerds around for the latest UFO expo of geeks and freaks. He literally happens upon two mysterious, blonde sibling teens, Sara (AnnaSophia Robb) and Set (Alexander Ludwig), who have some special powers and definitely not from this planet. They’re here on special mission to save their own planet, but are being tracked down by a killer cyborg whose mission is to hunt to kill the sibling aliens. Jack obtains the help of a pretty UFO expert (Carla Gugino) to get the powerful young ones back home. Meanwhile, top secret U.S. Government official Henry Burke (Ciaran Hinds) has his own nefarious plans to keep them here permanently for deadly experiments.
Race to Witch Mountain is an enjoyable but unmemorable film with about as much depth as a cheese puff, though not necessarily cheesy. Disney did a smart thing by capitalizing on the winning formula from The Rock and his Game Plan director Andy Fickman by hiring them both for this film. Johnson is an engaging guy whose acting talents remind of Sandler and Affleck. Mug a little, smile a little, throw out a funny line or two and you win the audience over with your warm persona. It won’t win Johnson any acting awards but should continue to help his winning formula at the box-office. Fickman’s direction is serviceable, he lets his actors mug for the camera and handles the special effects well.
It also helps that Race to Witch Mountain has an attractive supporting cast, nifty special effects (including the space ship) and is peppered with a few exciting action scenes, especially an action-packed extended desert car chase in the first half. Not as good is the thin, confusing story dealing with some nonsense about saving the universe, especially dragging down the middle act when the leads meander around some silly UFO expo.
This remake, as goofy as it is, actually improves upon the original, Escape to Witch Mountain, since that film was made back in the 1970’s, a low point for quality Disney films. It retains the original film’s very basic plot outline, but changes most everything else, with very little resemblance to the old Alexander Key sci-fi book it’s originally based on. Watch for Ike Eisenmann and Kim Richards, the now grown-up stars of the original film, in fun cameos as a sheriff and waitress.
The rest of the cast is a mixed bag. Carla Gugino (also co-starring in Watchmen), is a stellar character actress who deserves better than this, while Robb and Ludwig are handsome alien teens who annoyingly utter Jack Bruno’s name a thousand times. Hinds, a character actor whose face you recognize from countless other films, scowls convincingly as the bad guy, a role he’s become typecast in. Tom Everett Scott, once hailed as the next Tom Hanks, is wasted in a small role, while Cheech Marin and director Garry Marshall appear in brief, unfunny cameos.
Witch Mountain is a Disney family film for the masses: blandly colorful enough to keep audiences entertained long enough through a large popcorn. After a fast start and a slow midsection, it speeds back up for a climactic, predictable ET-style hop-in-the-saucer finish. Unfortunately, this film isn‘t anything extra special other than a sweet 1968 Ford Mustang shown during the credits and a lovable dog named Junkyard.
Enjoyable but forgettable, families and fans of The Rock will get the most out of Race to Witch Mountain, just don’t expect them to remember much after it’s over.