Race To Witch Mountain

Race To Witch Mountain

***

Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

This is SERIOUS. The opening credits of this remake – or, as Hollywood insists, “reimagining” – of 1975 family flick Escape To Witch Mountain feel like the start of an X Files episode. Distorted voices on squelch-filled news channels talk of alien invasion, while grainy pictures show alleged saucer sightings and newspapers with headlines about little green men swirl in and out. While younger kids may struggle to keep up with all of this there is no denying it builds an atmosphere and this is a good thing - it is atmosphere which keeps this film alive long after it becomes apparent that any real plot has been abducted by aliens.

The narrative, such as it is, revolves around Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, who has been enjoying a reinvention as an all-American Disney good guy of late, picking up the sorts of roles Dean Jones made his own during the Seventies and beyond. He is endearing as a soft-centred hero type and his acting, rather like his physique, is solid if not overwhelming.

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Here, he plays Las Vegas cabbie Jack Bruno, a former car racer (which will come in handy) and ex-convict who is now going straight, despite the best efforts of evil mobster Mr Wolf, who wants Jack back on his payroll.

Vegas being Vegas, Jack is spending the morning ferrying an assortment of oddballs and scientists from the airport to a sci-fi convention, including Dr Alex Friedman (Carla Gugino), who by handy coincidence, tries to debunk alien myths while exploring genuine space anomalies that may prove there is life out there after all.

Meanwhile, Ciaran Hinds has his bad-guy mode set to stun as shadowy federal type Henry Burke, who has spotted an alien craft crash-land in the desert, impounded it and now has his heart set on capturing the EBEs – or possibly EPEs (it’s never explained or revealed what this stands for) – who were inside it.

The aliens, meanwhile, are not keen to be caught and, taking the form of two children Sara (AnnaSophia Robb) and Seth (Alexander Ludwig), they materialise in the back of Jack’s car and hand him the entire contents of an ATM with the instruction to take them to the middle of the desert. It isn’t long, of course, before kids and cabbie are involved in a series of thrills and spills including, but not limited to, escaping a Predator style monster in an underground cavern, dodging the henchmen of Mr Wolf and, of course, attempting, with the help of Dr Friedman, to return to Witch Mountain to regain their ship ... just as well they have special powers, then.

Once the action gets going, it’s easy to forget that the plot has left for the planet La-La and just enjoy the fun. All the action set-pieces are put together well and the special effects are enjoyable and convincing, with a certain retro edge which will no doubt please mums and dads who remember the original film.

They will also be amused to spot some endearing and nicely worked cameo roles from Kim Richards and Ike Eisenmann who played the kids (Tia and Tony) in the original. Finding strength in simplicity, while this isn’t the most memorable family film ever made, it has that solid Disney dependability we all know and love and, even if it won’t live too long in the memory, it will certainly keep the kids entertained over the holidays.

Reviewed on: 08 Apr 2009
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To young aliens crashland on Earth and enlist the help of a cabbie to retrieve their spaceship and save the planet.
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Director: Andy Fickman

Writer: Matt Lopez, Mark Bomback, Matt Lopez, based on the book by Alexander Key

Starring: Dwayne Johnson, AnnaSophia Robb, Alexander Ludwig, Carla Gugino, Ciaran Hinds, Tom Everett Scott, Chris Marquette, Billy Brown, Garry Marshall, Kim Richards

Year: 2009

Runtime: 98 minutes

BBFC: PG - Parental Guidance

Country: US

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