Race to Witch Mountain (United States, 2009)

March 13, 2009
A movie review by James Berardinelli
Race to Witch Mountain Poster

Race to Witch Mountain is the latest Disney "made for kids only" effort. It takes all the usual Disney hooks - cute children, a likeable protagonist, lame action and lamer jokes, some special effects, poker-faced bad guys, and an animal - and throws them into a story that makes no sense whatsoever. So, while children will be entertained by the flashy eye candy and pointless running around, adults will be obsessed with determining how such a nonsensical script could get made into a movie without at least a little more polishing. One supposes Disney is hoping to cash in on the inevitable nostalgia factor associated with the name "Witch Mountain." But, although this is technically a remake of the 1975 feature, Escape to Witch Mountain (which was subsequently re-done in 1995 as a made-for-TV production), it's mostly a different movie. While a few of the basic building blocks for the story remain, that's where similarities between Race and Escape end.

Sara (AnnaSophia Robb) and Seth (Alexander Ludwig) are the Wonder Twins - two aliens who end up in the back of a cab driven by Jack Bruno (Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson). She can read thoughts (maybe not such a good thing in Las Vegas) and perform levitation tricks. He can transmute matter. They are apparently not very good drivers because they have managed to crash land their spaceship on Earth. Now, it's in the hands of Dick Cheney's disciples, led by Man in Black Hat Henry Burke (Ciaran Hinds), who needs the kids to complete his collection of alien artifacts. Sara and Seth, having completed their hush-hush mission, want to go home. Despite their seemingly limitless powers, however, they need Jack to drive them around. And, even though Sara can disable cars with a flick of her wrist, she seems content to let them chase the cab through the desert outside of Las Vegas. Maybe she thinks it's fun. Eventually, when Jack's knowledge of things extraterrestrial proves to be limited, he confides in astrophysicist Alex Friedmen (Carla Gugino), who is more than happy to help out a couple of blonde-haired, blue-eyed ETs.

The more powerful the filmmakers decide to make the kids, the less sense the entire movie makes. To quote Kirk from Star Trek V (admittedly, not the most quotable of movies, unless you're into "Row Row Row Your Boat"): "Why does God need a starship?" Or, as it applies here, why do these kids need The Rock? Simply because AnnaSophia Robb (as talented an actress as she may be - see A Bridge to Terabithia) and Alexander Ludwig aren't going to sell many tickets. The Rock meanwhile, has decided to abandon Schwarzenegger mayhem in favor of something kinder, gentler, and more boring. But, as charismatic as Dwayne Johnson may be (and he has a ton of screen presence), there's no logical reason for him to be in this movie.

The movie has not been made for post-pubescent viewers in mind. With productions like this, it's possible for children to get caught up in the moment without really caring why something is happening. Race to Witch Mountain isn't intended for families to enjoy together. It's made so that the children can capture 98 minutes of candy-light sweetness while their parents are tortured for not electing to treat their offspring to something more intelligent. The Rock keeps the film from becoming unwatchable, but there's only so much he can do. The experience of sitting through Race to Witch Mountain is more numbing than painful. One can consider the picture to be cinematic novocaine.

For those who care about such things, the twins from the 1975 Escape to Witch Mountain (Kim Richards and Ike Eisenmann) have small parts. He's the small town sheriff who faces off against Ciaran Hinds' agents and she's the blonde waitress who aids the new kids escape. If nothing else, their presence shows a little reverence for the past. Of course, it would have been more reverential if Disney had let Witch Mountain lie buried. This is not a story that cries out to be remade every 15-20 years. And, while the special effects and acting are getting better, the story isn't. Too bad this won't be the last time I'll say this for a Disney motion picture. No one is as adept as the Magic Kingdom when it comes to recycling. But the green they're looking for has nothing to do with conservation.

Race to Witch Mountain (United States, 2009)

Run Time: 1:38
U.S. Release Date: 2009-03-13
MPAA Rating: "PG" (Violence)
Subtitles: none
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1