© 2009 Ray Wong
Based on Alexander Key's book and a remake of the 1975 movie, Race to Witch Mountain is a sci-fi action-adventure aimed squarely at prepubescent kids in the tradition of Disney life-action.
Jack Bruno (Dwayne Johnson) is an ex-con who is trying to stay out of trouble by being a cab driver in Las Vegas. He's broke and disillusioned about everything. When two children, Sara (AnnaSophia Robb) and Seth (Alexander Ludwig), hop into his cab with a big wad of cash, he thinks he's just getting a great fare. Little does he know he's now the guardian of two extraterrestrials.
They're promptly pursued by Homeland Security headed by ruthless Henry Burke (Ciarán Hinds), and his two assistants, Matheson (Tom Everett Scott) and Pope (Chris Marquette). At first Jack thinks the loan sharks are after him. Then they're being pursued by an alien in a small UFO -- that's when Jack realizes he's not in Kansas anymore. It turns out that Sara and Seth came to Earth on a mission, and an assassin from their home planet is also here to stop them. Meanwhile, Homeland Security is keeping their spaceship at a secret facility on Witch Mountain.
Jack decides to help these ETs and he seeks the help of UFO expert, Dr. Alex Friedman (Carla Gugino). Of course, Alex doesn't believe him at first. But once they realize the importance of Sara and Seth's mission, they will stop at nothing to protect the aliens and help them return to their home planet.
Dwayne Johnson (Get Smart) was born to play this part. Gruff, strong, handsome, not too smart but with a big heart, Jack Bruno seems like a character specifically written for Johnson. He does a good job in a very broad comedic way. Johnson has charisma to spare, but there's not much finesse in his acting. He's the last action hero, and he fills the role well enough.
AnnaSophia Robb (Jumper) does what she does best, playing the innocent, wide-eyed girl everyone loves to love. There's an added layer of characterization as she's playing an alien, but still, it's a two-dimensional role. Alexander Ludwig (The Seeker: The Dark is Rising) actually does a better job playing an alien -- his Spockish portrayal, what with all the technical mumble-jumble and emotionless reasoning, is good enough for a chuckle. Carla Gugino (Watchmen) is more at ease here than she did in Watchmen. I'm not, however, convinced that she's a doctor in astrophysics. But she's amiable enough, and cute enough to be paired with Johnson.
The supporting cast includes Ciarán Hinds (There Will be Blood) as the bad guy representing the US government. Hinds has a classical villainous face and that serves him well. Tom Everett Scott (Because I Said So) and Chris Marquette (Fanboys) have nothing much to do than running around Hinds. The characters are so two-dimensional that you end up feeling sorry for them because there are opportunities for them to do something good. Finally, Garry Marshall (Chicken Little) has a fun time in his cameo playing Dr. Harlan, an UFO-conspiracy "nutjob."
Written by Matt Lopez (Bedtime Stories) and Mark Bomback (Live Free or Die Hard), the script does seem like a mesh of their respective talents: Lopez specializes in children's adventures and Bomback is all about action. The plot is generally non-stop from the very first scene. There's nothing unique or new about this; everything is written by the book, complete with the wisecracks and asinine subplots. It's a tried and true formula and the writers stick to that religiously. The plot is predictable, offering absolutely no suspense or tension. The story is just an excuse for action sequence after sequence. For all its intended purposes, the writers do their job, considering their target audiences.
It's director's Andy Fickman (The Game Plan) I have a problem with. Right from the beginning, Fickman's direction shows its ineptitude. The editing is choppy, and the pacing is too fast and furious, leaving no room for real character development. The production feels rushed and chaotic. The score is mind-numbingly repetitive and annoying. Also, there are moments for some of the characters to do something unexpected, but they blow the chances. The result is something that is tiresome and uninteresting. If not for Johnson's immense personality and charisma, this film would have almost no redeeming value.
I understand I'm not part of the target demographics; but still, I don't want to have my intelligence insulted if I had to take some youngsters to see this. A family fun adventure should be enjoyable for everyone in the family. Witch Mountain is juvenile (sometimes outright offensive), chaotic, tiresome and predictable. It's also too violent for a PG movie. It's as if the filmmakers are all on autopilot. It's certainly not something we should race out to see.
Stars: Dwayne Johnson, AnnaSophia Robb, Alexander Ludwig, Carla Gugino, Ciarán Hinds, Tom Everett Scott, Chris Marquette, Garry Marshall
Director: Andy Fickman
Writers: Matt Lopez, Mark Bomback (based on Alexander Key's book)
Distributor: Walt Disney
MPAA Rating: PG for sequences of action and violence, frightening and dangerous situations, some thematic elements
Running Time: 98 Minutes
Script – 5
Performance – 6
Direction – 5
Cinematography – 6
Editing – 6
Production – 7
Total – 5.4 out of 10