RACE TO WITCH MOUNTAIN
***1/2 (out of 5)
March 13, 2009
Dwayne Johnson as JACK BRUNO
AnnaSophia Robb as SARAH
Alexander Ludwig as SETH
Carla Gugino as DR. ALEX FRIEDMAN
Ciarán Hinds as HENRY BURKE
Tom Everett Scott as MATHESON
Chris Marquette as POPE
Billy Brown as CARSON
Garry Marshall as DR. DONALD HARLAN
Directed by: Andy Fickman
BY KEVIN CARR
Listen to Kevin’s radio review…
I was only four years old when the original “Escape to Witch Mountain” came out in the theaters, which made me only seven when its sequel “Return from Witch Mountain” was released. This put me in the prime age for these Disney adventures to be a significant part of my childhood. I can’t remember whether I saw the first one in the theaters, but know I saw the second one there, and I watched them both multiple times on television.
Of course, times have changed, and these relatively soft stories aren’t as exciting to me as an adult. They were steeped in 70s culture, and their special effects were minimal. Having seen both films again recently, I still enjoyed the first one, and my kids have liked them as well.
When we first saw the advertisements for the new re-imagining called “Race to Witch Mountain,” it was a movie of anticipation in our house. There are many noticeable differences between this film and its predecessors, though. The new movie is packed with more action and many more special effects. Instead of just having one bad guy chasing after them ( a millionaire portrayed by Ray Milland in the first film, now played by Ciarán Hinds as a zealous man working for a fringe group in the government), there’s also a bounty hunter chasing the kids.
“Race to Witch Mountain” focuses mostly on the character of Jack Bruno (Dwayne Johnson), an ex-con who is trying to make a legitimate life as a cabby in Las Vegas. One day, Jack picks up two mysterious teenagers who need him to drive them far out of the city. The kids are being chased by the government, but Jack thinks the pursuers are people from his criminal past. Eventually, Jack learns the kids have extraordinary powers, are aliens sent to save Earth and that he must help them return home.
Overall, the general premise is the same as the 70s Disney classics, but the film and story itself have been heavily modernized… but not necessarily in a bad way. There’s nothing wrong with making a whiz-bang action flick out of the original concept. In fact, as I watched the film with my five-year-old son, I found myself really getting into it.
Dwayne Johnson, who has been making a bit of a name for himself at Disney with his most recent film “The Game Plan,” commands the lead of the movie, mixing a bit of his action star status with his family friendly demeanor. He has pretty decent chemistry with his young co-stars AnnaSophia Robb (whom you might remember from Disney’s “Bridge to Teribithia”) and Alexander Ludwig (whom you probably won’t remember from “The Seeker: The Dark Is Rising”).
Rounding out the cast is Carla Gugino as a scientific UFO investigator, which is a nice, less edgy turn from previous roles in films like “Righteous Kill” and “Watchmen.” Director Garry Marshall also has a small part as a UFO nut that lends a hand, as well as a Winnebego, which played a prominent role in the original film.
There’s enough Easter eggs in this film to excite fans of the old series, including a wink-and-a-nod cameo by the original “Escape to Witch Mountain” kids in the middle of the film.
If you’re expecting a shot-by-shot remake of the original movies, you’re going to be sorely disappointed. However, “Race to Witch Mountain” provides a safe and exciting big-screen adventure for the family to enjoy.