"Race To Witch Mountain"

Dwayne Johnson leads the way as Jack Bruno in Andy Fickman's "Race To Witch Mountain", which opened today across the U.S. and Canada.  With Mr. Johnson is (clockwise),
AnnaSophia Robb as Sara, Carla Gugino as Dr. Alex Friedman, and Alexander Ludwig as Seth.  (Photo: Ron Phillips/Disney Enterprises)

What?  Which?  Witch?  Man, This Movie Is A Mountain.
By Omar P.L. Moore/  
Friday, March 13, 2009

If you find yourself with nothing to do this weekend, you may just stumble into "Race To Witch Mountain", a light, fluffy made-for-matinee movie with little holding it together but Dwayne Johnson, who plays a cab driver who has been there and done that.  Set in Las Vegas, "Race To Witch Mountain", which has as its predecessors the popular 1970s films "Escape From Witch Mountain" and "Return From Witch Mountain", is as simple as you like: bring two otherworldly human-like teens marooned on planet Earth back to their spaceship, which has been hijacked by the U.S. government for experimentation, before they too are taken.  "Race To Witch Mountain", which opened across the U.S. and Canada today, plays with all the artifice of an adventure set in Las Vegas at the MGM Grand: it may have its occasional thrills but for the most part it is flat and forgettable the second it ends.  That's not to say however, that some of the film isn't likable -- it is -- although those fleeting moments of appreciation are very few and far between, with unimpressive special effects that feel and look transparent.

Director Andy Fickman who directed Mr. Johnson in "The Game Plan", puts this 2009 Disney tale on thin ice, and any energy that "Race To Witch Mountain" evaporates whenever Mr. Johnson isn't on the screen.  AnnaSophia Robb ("Because Of Winn-Dixie") and Alexander Ludwig play the two extra-terrestrials who summon Mr. Johnson, who plays Jack Bruno (Miss Robb plays Sara, repeatedly uttering Jack's full name), to drive them somewhere, anywhere but here.  Jack realizes (a little later than the audience does) that he's dealing with no ordinary kids.  Jack's cab, like the French car Herbie, stops and starts beyond his control.  Seth (Mr. Ludwig -- who looks at times as if he is about to head-butt someone when he talks to them) does something that last summer's miserable film "Hancock" did: stop a locomotive (well, a car) by standing still and colliding into it, making it erupt into pieces.  When curiosity gets the better of Jack he finds himself mired with Sara and Seth in the trek to a mysterious underground world located in a house in the middle of nowhere.  The movie (written by Matt Lopez and Mark Bomback and based on Alexander Key's book) could have ended then and there but a retired wrestler has to be given the perfect excuse to showcase his biceps and physical prowess, and Mr. Johnson happily obliges. 

Despite the muscle-flexing Mr. Johnson gets to show incredulity as a character, though he'd have the right to show the same to the plot of this film, asking himself what on earth he was doing in it.  To be fair, Mr. Johnson is a gratifying presence countering Mr. Fickman's sometimes scattered direction, and is fast becoming the Bill Cosby of films: he's charismatic, measured and doesn't need to curse to make his admiring audience laugh, while sustaining an appeal across the audience spectra.  If Mr. Johnson continues to play his cards right he could end up becoming one of America's biggest box office star actors.  He's shown acting ability in films like "Southland Tales" and "Gridiron Gang", and as a real-life father has a natural bond with children (both here and in "The Game Plan").  Hopefully Mr. Johnson realizes that he has a lot more in his acting repertoire which the world has yet to see.  He'll ultimately need better films than this one to showcase the wealth of talents he possesses.  As Mr. Johnson shapes and expands his onscreen resume into different genres however, he has so far skillfully eluded pigeonholing.  Good things are no doubt coming Mr. Johnson's way, even if "Race To Witch Mountain" won't necessarily be one of them.

Carla Gugino ("Spy Kids", "American Gangster" and HBO television's "Entourage") takes a back seat to the bruising action her Silk Spectre character faced in last week's theatrical release "Watchmen" and here plays a discredited astrophysicist, dropping in on Las Vegas to give a presentation at a UFO convention.  As the attractive Dr. Alex Friedman she is Disney-fied comic relief and a potential love interest for Jack.  The film introduces the idea of romance then cautiously dispenses of it, remembering that Mickey M's watchful eye and wagging finger are on immediate standby should Alex and Jack take the time to express the mutual attraction that they clearly share, even in a PG-rated movie.  Be that as it may, Ms. Gugino has fun in her role, as does "Pretty Woman" film director Garry Marshall in an amusing cameo as Dr. Donald Harlan.  Ciarán Hinds ("Miami Vice") is ever-imperious as Burke, the lead government investigative special agent hell bent on seizing Sara and Seth.  There are two goons who turn up at odd moments in the narrative who keep saying things like, " Mr. Burke doesn't like to be upset".  Neither do we.

With: Tom Everett Scott, Chris Marquette, Billy Brown, Kim Richards, Iake Eissinmann and Tom Woodruff Jr.

"Race To Witch Mountain" is rated PG by the Motion Picture Association Of America for sequences of action and violence, frightening and dangerous situations, and some thematic elements.  The action is indeed rough and tumble at times, so why not call it a PG-13?  The film's running time is one hour and 38 minutes.

Copyright The Popcorn Reel.  2009.  All Rights Reserved.



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