Race to Witch Mountain – Review

Between a Rock and a Mountain


Director: Andy Fickman
Notable Cast: Dwayne Johnson, AnnaSophia Robb, Carla Gugino, Ciaran Hinds, Alexander Ludwig

I’ve never taken the trip to Witch Mountain. In the seventies, Disney released Escape from Witch Mountain and its subsequent follow-up, Return to Witch Mountain, but I’ve never seen them. The kid-friendly alien movies I grew up with were E.T., D.A.R.Y.L., and Mac and Me. Everyone has at least heard of the first one, and have probably quoted “E.T., phone, home,” far more than they care to admit. The second alien flick gets lost in the discussion, and the last one has a most absurd commercial tie-in with McDonald’s. It’s so bad that it has become a running joke whenever Paul Rudd is a guest on Conan O’Brien.

This year, Disney has reimagined the original 1975 motion picture and the 1968 Alexander Key novel for a whole new audience to enjoy. Race to Witch Mountain is a family adventure that simplifies character development in favor of more action and excitement, with plenty of car chases and guns – unlike the E.T. DVD release where digitally rendered Walkie-Talkies replaced guns. Kids will consume this confectionary matinee with ease, but for many they will leave unfulfilled.

It begins when a pair of alien siblings, Sara (AnnaSophia Robb) and Seth (Alexander Ludwig), crash land on Earth. They have come to retrieve a device that will insure their planet’s survival. Along the way they enlist the help of Las Vegas cabbie Jack Bruno (Dwayne Johnson), a man whose questionable past has made him avoid doing anything that’ll land him behind bars. Hot on their tails is a group of men in black from the DoD (led by Ciaran Hinds) and an intergalactic bounty hunter.

Over the course of the adventure Bruno becomes guardian of the pair, helping to ensure that Sara and Seth get back to their planet. The trio becomes a quartet when Bruno seeks the aid of Dr. Alex Friedman (Carla Gugino), a discredited astrophysicist that’s a guest speaker at a U.F.O. convention in Vegas.

Race to Witch Mountain is a fitting title because there’s hardly any slowdown. Either Jack Bruno is driving frantically trying to avoid Department of Defense brass or he’s trying to elude the alien hunter. This constant movement – on highways, the casino floor, or the Witch Mountain facility – is fun, PG-stylized action that will entice viewers, but there’s no emotional substance to connect with the characters. In its place is comedy, fronted by Dwayne Johnson one-liners. There are no huge gut-busters, just a few that will make you smirk here and there.

Still, this is in no way Johnson’s fault. Having previously worked with director Andy Fickman on The Game Plan, the Rock has no problems with self-deprecation. And his natural charisma is appealing to kids and parents. The problem here is the script. The words have as much forcefulness as the Rock taking on the bounty hunter with his bare hands. The material doesn’t have any oomph, leaving the actors to make the most of their characters. Ciaran Hinds is wasted in his role; instead of being a DoD stooge, he should have just ditched the hard-nose act and have fun.

The added cameos by the original Witch Mountain kids is a nice touch by Fickman, as is the few seconds of screen time by Meredith Salenger as TV reporter Natalie Gann. (In her feature film debut, Salenger played opposite John Cusack in Disney’s The Journey of Natty Gann.)

I may be a little harsh about Race, but this is clearly a case where my “inner kid” is just not feeling the flashy chase sequences or the story overall. Younger kids will enjoy the aliens, already knowing AnnaSophia Robb from Bridge to Terabithia. It may not be one of Disney’s better live-action family films, but it’s suitable enough for kids.


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