Race to Witch Mountain
dir Andy Fickman
scr Matt Lopez, Mark Bomback
with Dwayne Johnson, AnnaSophia Robb, Alexander Ludwig, Carla Gugino, Ciarán Hinds, Tom Everett Scott, Chris Marquette, Billy Brown, Garry Marshall, Robert Torti, Kim Richards, Iake Eisenmann
release US 13.Mar.09, UK 10.Apr.09
09/US Disney 1h39
Race to Witch Mountain
On the run: Johnson, Ludwig and Robb

gugino hinds scott
R E V I E W    B Y    R I C H    C L I N E
Race to Witch Mountain Loaded with references to the 1975 Disney classic Escape to Witch Mountain, this completely revamped action movie is enjoyably watchable, even though there's not a moment of suspense in its squeaky clean plot.

Jack Bruno (Johnson) is an ex-con taxi driver in Las Vegas, justifiably annoyed that the UFO convention is in town. And it gets worse when towhead teens Sara and Seth (Robb and Ludwig) show up in his cab, asking to be taken out into the desert. Soon government goons, led by the tenaciously evil Burke (Hinds), start chasing the kids, who are actually aliens from a distant planet and need to get to the secret Witch Mountain facility before an interstellar killer catches them. So Jack turns to a scientist (Gugino) for help.

Despite quite a bit of violence, these filmmakers don't just aim at a very young audience, they underestimate them, over-explaining even the simplest elements of the premise and trailing every plot point miles ahead. They reveal every possible surprise in the opening few minutes, from which point the story basically writes itself. And the kids' alien powers seem fairly pedestrian, as if anything more complex might lose their core demographic.

Fortunately, Johnson is on hand, as always, to liven things up with his offhanded acting and nearly overpowering physical charisma. And it's his gently bristly attitude, camaraderie with the kids and bullheaded good-guy toughness that adds interest to every scene. Even his chemistry with Gugino works better than expected. So it's a shame that director Fickman guides Robb and Ludwig to such stiff, predictably alien-like performances: big eyes, strangled dialog and eerie gestures.

On the other hand, Fickman has a great time packing the movie with nods to the original, from small roles for original kids Richards and Eisenmann to the key appearance of a Winnebago. Fans who grew up with that film will get a kick out of these inside jokes, even if everything that made that film such a classic has been abandoned for a more pedestrian save-the-world action movie. But in today's dumbed-down marketplace, perhaps this collection of effects sequences, gun battles and car chases is just what will keep young viewers entertained.

cert pg themes, violence 15.Mar.09

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© 2009 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall