Race to Witch Mountain

In “Race to Witch Mountain,” director Andy Fickman reteams with star Dwayne Johnson after their successful collaboration in Disney's “The Game Plan,” which co-starred Kyra Sedgwick.


As a hybrid of a remake of Disney's 1975 action-adventure “Escape to Witch Mountain,” which led to the 1978 sequel “Return from Witch Mountain,” and an effort to reimagine and update the story, the movie is only semi-successful.  However, it displays mild charm and innocuous appeal, which rest on the effective combination of sci-fi, action-adventure, humor and positive values, all targeted at a family-oriented audience, the kind of which Disney has built a name for.


Dwayne Johnson seems to occupy a similar spot to the one held by Arnold Schwarzenegger, who made several action comedies with children in major roles, aimed at children.  Here is an unpretentious performer-star, who probably knows his limitations and chooses vehicles that serve his talents well, such as “Get Smart” versus Richard Kelly's disastrous “Southern Tales.”


Like most mythic adventures, at the center of this tale is an exotic, secret place veiled in mystery, Witch Mountain, somewhere in the midst of the Nevada desert, known for strange happenings and sights that defy rational explanations.


The premise is simple: Dwayne Johnson plays Jack Bruno, a down-on-his luck cab driver who picks up two teens, Seth and Sara, who happen to be from another world, possessing supernatural powers. Joining forces, the trio is motivated by the goal of saving the world by unraveling the secrets of Witch Mountain.


The screenplay by Matt Lopez (“Bedtime Stories”) and Mark Bomback (“Live Free or Die Hard”), from a screen story by Lopez, based on Alexander Key's book “Escape to Witch Mountain,” is not very sharp or witty but it's serviceable enough for his kind of fare.


Early on, we are introduced to Jack, a cab driver who has been dealt a bad hand in life. Driving up and down the Vegas Strip, he's trying to lay low in life, living as quietly and as ordinarily as possible, but his life changes dramatically after his encounter with the alien kids.  From that point on, the movie unfolds as a fantasy-journey, in which the trio is fighting all sorts of enemies, threatening (and nefarious) government agents in black SUVs as well as an alien hunter from another planet.


Seth and Sara are on a special quest, which must be completed within a very short timetable. They have to retrieve a device left on Earth by their parents that holds the secret to saving not only their world but ours as well.  You could say that they carry the burden of two worlds on their shoulders. To that extent, the strong, focused siblings utilize their special gifts.  Sara possesses the power of telepathy and telekinesis. She can read minds or move things with hers. Brother Seth has the power to change the density of his body, become a ghost, and slip through walls or become as hard as metal so anything can run into him without any harm.


Since this picture is calculatingly made for viewers all ages and both genders, the tale calls for an adult female role, a tough astrophysicist (Carla Gugino), who joins the team along for the wild ride.


The collision of two worlds, or the ordinary meeting the extraordinary, is central to the plot, and for a while the scribes come up with enough variations, secondary characters, and subplots to maintain a consistent level of involvement.  It also helps that the children are played by bright, resourceful and appealing actors such as AnnaSophia Robb and Alexander Ludwig. 


Considering her age, AnnaSophia Robb already claims a diverse body of work, made by some of the best directors working today, to her credit, from “Bridge to Terabithia” to Tim Burton's “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” to Paul Thomas Anderson's “There Will Be Blood” to Spielberg's “Munich.” 


As noted, Johnson has an amiable, non-threatening personality (flaunting nice broad smile) as well as the muscles required to perform some of the stunts and be part of the special effects. 

The other adult roles are imaginatively cast with pros like Carla Gugino, CiarĂ¡n Hinds, and Tom Everett Scott.  It's always a pleasure to have comedian Cheech Marin (“Beverly Hills Chihuahua,” “Cars”) and Garry Marshall, better known as a director than actor, in small roles.


Technically, the film is well-mounted, with contribution from director of photography Greg Gardiner, who had also shot “The Game Plan,” production designer David J. Bomba, who oversaw the Oscar-winning musical biopic “Walk the Line,” and editor David Rennie, who cut the adventure hit “National Treasure: Book of Secrets.”


End Note:


Paying tribute to film history, the cast also includes Kim Richards and Iake Eissinmann, who played the original alien children Tia and Tony in the 1970s “Witch Mountain” films.