March 15, 2009

Movie Revew: Race to Witch Mountain

racetowitchmountain1_smallIn 1968 a science fiction novel arrived on store shelves that turned out to be a hit. The novel was written by Alexander H. Key and was called Escape to Witch Mountain. It told the story of two orphans who possess special abilities, such as telekinesis and to communicate with animals. The orphans learn that they may not be quite human and embark on a journey of discovery with world-spanning implications. The story was optioned by Disney and turned into a feature film in 1975. It went through a few modifications, but arrived on the screen more or less intact, going on to be very successful. It was followed by a sequel in 1978 called Return to Witch Mountain and a TV movie/potential pilot called Beyond Witch Mountain in 1982. Now, more than 30-years after it first graced the big screen, Escape to Witch Mountain has been re-imagined into Race to Witch Mountain. Does it retain the tales integrity? Not so much, but it still is entertaining.

Let me be right up front and say that I have never read the book and I have not seen the film since I was just a wee tyke. To say my recollection of any story points is slim would be an overstatement. I do not remember a thing. I guess that is for the best, it helped me enter this engagement without any of that baggage.

racetowitchmountainpic7Race to Witch Mountain is exactly what it says it is. It is not so much an adventure or a journey of discovery, self or otherwise. It is a race, pure and simple. On one hand, it is very well executed as a chase film; however, if you want something with any sort of depth beyond the surface, you would best look somewhere else. It is the latter that really surprised me. No, I was not expecting all that much in terms of depth and characterization, or social commentary, but I was hoping for more than was given. Fortunately, the chase aspect of the film was executed in high-energy fashion and it makes up for what it lacks in story with action.

Dwayne Johnson (no longer The Rock, mind you) stars as Jack Bruno, an ex-con working as a cabbie. He used to be a driver for a Las Vegas crime boss named Wolf, and Wolf does not like employees leaving the job. So, while avoiding Wolf's henchman, Jack picks up a couple of teenage clients; rather, the kids seemingly materialize out of thin air in the back of the cab and request to be driven out into the middle of the desert.

The kids are Sara (AnnaSophia Robb) and Seth (Alexander Ludwig). They don't cone from around here. After a little prodding from Jack, the siblings give up the goods and let Jack in on the secret of where they call home, not to mention the abilities they posses (that will come in handy later on). Jack is a doubter and not immediately receptive to their alien origins, but soon comes around in the face of their otherworldly feats.

racetowitchmountainpic4Off the trio go, racing in, around, and through Las Vegas, soon joined by UFO expert Dr. Alex Friedman (Carla Gugino), who is in town to give a seminar at a science fiction convention. Unfortunately, this is not about a group of new friends on a trip. It is a journey fraught with danger as not only are Wolf's men looking for Jack, but a group of hard-nosed government agents in black SUV's and matching suits led by a man named Burke (Ciaran Hinds). He will not stop until he has the alien kids in custody.

Sure, there is a little more to it than that, we learn a little more about Jack's past, more about why Sara and Seth are on Earth, mix it with a little commentary on our environment, shake well, serves as many as will pay to see it.

Race to Witch Mountain is a movie that will play well to the young, with its likable leads and their equally likable performances while the adults will be left wanting something a little bit more. Director Adam Finkman does a good job of keeping the action moving, all of it is well -executed and keeps the audience involved with the race, if nothing else. If only there was a little more meat to dig into.

I liked seeing Dwayne Johnson on the screen and really hope he gets the chance at something big. The man has a likable screen persona, good comic timing, and can handle action with ease. He does a good job of making you care about the character, even if it is not all that interesting.

Bottomline. As disappointing as the story of the film is, it is far from a disappointment overall. The action is good and the performances sell the film for more than it is worth and successfully won me over to its side, somewhat.

Mildly Recommended.


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