Directed by: Andy Fickman (The Gameplan)
Starring: Dwayne Johnson, AnnaSophia Robb, Alexander Ludwig, Carla Gugino, Ciarán Hinds
If someone forced me to come up with a single adjective to describe Andy Fickman’s Race to Witch Mountain, it would be “superfluous.” This isn’t because the movie is a remake of the 1975 Escape to Witch Mountain. It’s not because that flick produced two sequels, Return to Witch Mountain (1978) and the TV movie Beyond Witch Mountain (1982). And the reason isn’t because this latest incarnation is a cinematic abomination. After all, this is Disney we’re talking about, the movie was bound to be perfectly adequate and inoffensive. No, if nothing else, it’s because it is pointless and unnecessary. Since the film carries the Disney banner, its existence as a moneymaker is pre-established. But that’s no excuse for Witch Mountain’s lack of effort. The whole ordeal feels shoddy and cheap. The sets are unconvincing; the action is lackluster; the CGI is corny; and the plot is riddled with contrivances.
Now, you may be saying to yourself, “But this movie is for kids; why be so picky?” And within the limited means of what’s expected—and what passes—for family entertainment, Witch Mountain is perfectly fine. But at the same time, just because kids are kids, does that really mean whatever middling, slapdash junk Disney fobs off on them should be greeted with open arms? Aren’t kids allowed good movies, too? Yes, Witch Mountain was created as simple entertainment, but shouldn’t that mean it should be, I don’t know, entertaining? Heck, Robert Rodriguez has made four kids’ movies with more heart, imagination and charm than anything on display in this careless excuse for a diversion. I’m including The Adventures of Shark Boy and Lava Girl in 3-D (2005)—that’s how adamant I am.
The plot is simple. Dwayne Johnston (who seems to have finally dropped “The Rock” from his moniker, even though no one knows who Dwayne Johnston is) plays Jack Bruno, a down-on-his-luck Vegas cabbie with a dark and shadowy past. He just happens to pick up two creepy kids (AnnaSophia Robb, Bridge to Terabithia, and Alexander Ludwig, The Seeker: The Dark is Rising), who look like extras from Village of the Damned. The kids need assistance making their way to some obscure location in the Nevada desert. Begrudgingly, Jack agrees to help them. But the plot thickens, as plots are wont to do, and it turns out the tots are space aliens in search of the key to preventing an invasion of Earth by inhabitants of their home planet. Of course, this means the U.S. Government is hot on the kids’ trail, though luckily the kids spend the majority of the movie as modern-day variants on the Keystone Kops. There’s also an interstellar bounty hunter after the kids, who looks like a hokey mix between a Predator and the dude from those corny Japanese Guyver movies from the early ‘90s. His whole purpose seems to be to work lots of blue explosions into the film.
All this is an excuse for car chases and the kind of old-hat conspiracy theories found in the X-Files about 15 years ago. Oh, and for Jack to discover himself, while simultaneously allowing viewers to witness The Rock engaging in various acts of fisticuffs. Never mind that this butts heads with the subversive themes of pacifism and environmentalism that run throughout the movie.
As anything other than a mediocre couple of hours of distraction, Race to Witch Mountain is futile. The only thing I’ve personally gotten out of watching the movie is the realization that watching Spy Kids sometime soon sounds like a good idea. Rated PG for sequences of action and violence, frightening and dangerous situations, and some thematic elements.