Disney's Race to Witch Mountain arrives on DVD this week, and if the studio was intending to rejuvenate a franchise based on the film - they're going to have to try again. The movie, while not a box office dud, was certainly not a hit, with audiences shrugging it off and critics throwing stones. Their reactions are valid, as the movie, essentially a modern-day retelling of the 1975 film Escape to Witch Mountain, is bland and uninteresting, despite a barrage of action.
The movie stars Dwayne Johnson as a tough taxi driver who owes money to some thugs. He's delighted but also worried when two kids with a suspicious amount of cash hire him to drive them into the middle of the Las Vegas desert. He realizes he made a mistake when government agents - and an alien assassin - come after the children, putting him in the middle of a fight that could, depending on its outcome, destroy Earth.
Race to Witch Mountain has all the ingredients of a good family film. Johnson has proven himself to be an entertaining force in whatever he appears in, whether it's made for children or adults. The kids in the movie - aliens, actually - have all kinds of cool special powers. There are evil aliens and evil federal agents, and plenty of action to tie everything together.
In fact, some children probably will enjoy Race to Witch Mountain for those very reasons. And when compared to all of the movies parents could choose from, I could think of much worse things to sit through than this.
It's just that the movie could have been so much better...
Johnson, who has as much charisma as anyone working in Hollywood today, seems to have lost his mojo, most likely thanks to the direction of Andy Fickman and the screenplay by Matt Lopez and Mark Bomback. He drives around the desert, complaining about the situation he has gotten himself into and delivering painful one-liners. It appears as though he was contractually bound to be as bland as he could be in the movie.
AnnaSophia Robb, who was excellent in Bridge to Terabithia, and Alexander Ludwig, who was the star of the disappointing franchise killer The Seeker: The Dark is Rising, are also sucked of all life. They play the two alien children, but as the two characters who audiences should connect with most, they are amazingly flat and uninteresting. They talk in a very cryptic and unemotional way, but rarely evoke laughs or anything else. It's pretty painful watching or listening to them on screen, and that's not good.
Carla Gugino, a generally reliable actress, also seems stuck down a creek without a paddle.
The bottom line is that the movie just isn't much fun. The screenplay fails to take advantage of the story; most of the jokes are terrible and the situations the characters find themselves in are uninteresting. As a result, the action is very cookie cutter; there's a lot of it, but nothing that's remarkably good. Kids expect more these days, but Fickman doesn't realize that.
Again, for parents, you could do worse. There's enough on-screen action to keep your children entertained, and you won't go numb from watching it. But you and your kids will agree that there's not much here to latch onto; Race to Witch Mountain is a perfect example of failed opportunity.
Review by Dakota Grabowski (D+)
For Andy Fickman's (The Game Plan) debut in the children's action-fantasy genre, Race to Witch Mountain turns out to be a disappointment. From a weak supporting cast to wooden dialogue, Dwayne Johnson's Jack Bruno isn't given much to work with. Whether it's, "Don't go in the pimped out fridge Jack," to "You know what aliens look like. They look like little green people with antennas and say 'Take me to your leader, Earthlings,'" Race to Witch Mountain is nothing more than a theatrical release of made-to-DVD film.
To give it credit, while not for all audiences, the humor is light and clean. Children - especially young boys under the age of 15 - will enjoy the comedy as it's narrowly directed towards them. In the past, children's films such as Shrek tend to try to appeal to all ages with subtle jokes that only adults will get. In Race to Witch Mountain, we tend to get humor that is short and simple. The jokes won't have you "busting a gut" or spitting out your drink through your nose, but as a parent, you'll enjoy that it's clean and that your children are able to giggle at the physical humor.
Taking further steps to become more family-oriented, Dwayne Johnson once again partnered up with Andy Fickman from their 2007 hit The Game Plan. Taking a leap to new grounds, Fickman was out of his league with the remake of 1975's Escape to Witch Mountain. The effects aren't too shabby, but the action scenes aren't spaced out enough during the middle to allow a breather. Often times you'll be asking yourself when they are going to stop blowing things up and provide detail on the children in the film to give you a better understanding about why you should care about the story.
Speaking on the children, AnnaSophia Robb (Bridge to Terabithia) and Alexander Ludwig (The Seeker: The Dark is Rising) don't have the greatest on-screen chemistry. Often times they are delivering dialogue that is inexpressive and un-emoted. AnnaSophia does a lot better when she's sharing time with Johnson on screen, but then again it's far too limited. By the end of the film, there's not much hope to build a rapport with the characters and you'll end up not caring for their wellbeing.
The rest of the cast, such as: Carla Gugino (Watchmen), Ciaran Hinds ("Rome"), and Chris Marquette (Fanboys) are wasted with restricted scenes where they only perform to the limit of their one-dimensional characters. This is ultimately where the problem lies with Race to Witch Mountain: it doesn't provide well-developed characters that are particularly interesting or liked. Johnson's Jack Bruno isn't expanded upon besides his criminal career, the alien children never give you any insight to be concerned about their fate, and Gugino's love interest for Johnson isn't attention-grabbing to the point you are rooting for her and Johnson to hook up by the end of the film.
Race to Witch Mountain is your run-of-the-mill children's action film with a fantasy theme to it. It's not nearly as fun or entertaining as the original for adults, but young boys will find some of the action scenes to be catered towards their liking. It's an action-packed film that is far too linear and predictable. The only saving face it has is its ability to stay away from vulgar language, sexual innuendo for the most part and inappropriate content for children. Race to Witch Mountain is basically a family film that parent's can safely know that their children won't be exposed to filthy material, but all the while will be scratching their head wondering why the film is so monotonous.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.
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