Movie Review: Race to Witch Mountain

>Disney has a recent tradition of taking their older, more dated, properties and making newer versions with mixed results. For the most part they are commercial successes, but I can’t say that I’ve seen any of them that I prefer to the original. It’s probably because I grew up watching and enjoying the originals and I can’t help but compare them. Also it’s probably because most of them star Lindsay Lohan, and it didn’t take me long at all to get tired of seeing her everywhere. Fortunately, in addition to being completely Lohan-free, Disney’s new version of Escape to Witch Mountain, renamed Race to Witch Mountain, is an extremely entertaining and very fun ride!

As it began, Race to Witch Mountain first grabbed my attention by the intense opening credits, which featured a montage of fuzzy UFO sighting video edited together with audio clips of people describing their encounters. The pace of the credits got me interested in the film and hoping that the rest of the movie would be just as exciting.

The story begins as the U.S. Government tracks a UFO as it crash lands in the desert just outside of Las Vegas. Agents are quickly on the scene, led by Henry Burke (Ciarán Hinds), and they soon realize that there were two beings on the ship who most likely resemble human beings, and the agents begin tracking their movements into the city.

Meanwhile, Jack Bruno (Duane “The Rock” Johnson) is a man with a troubled past who is trying to make a clean living as a taxi driver who shuttles people to and from the airport in “Sin City.” After a few brief examples of what his life is like we swing right into some exciting chase scenes as Sara (AnnaSophia Robb) and Seth (Alexander Ludwig) appear in his taxi offering him $500,000 to take them into the middle of nowhere in the desert. From this moment on there were enough car chases, special effects and humor to keep me interested through to the very end.

Along the way they run into Dr. Alex Friedman (Carla Gugino) who is a scientist who has massacred her career by her persistent professing of her belief in extra-terrestrial life. I was entertained by the scenes that introduced her character as she tried to talk serious science to a group of costumed sci-fi fans that were attending the UFO convention where she was presenting. Her coming together with Jack, Sara and Seth at the convention and the antics that facilitated their escape from their pursuers were some of the best parts of the movie for me.

While I really liked this movie, there were a couple moments that struck me as weaknesses. The first was the introduction of the mafia-type thugs who show up and try to bring Jack to see the big boss-man. This is a story thread that I didn’t think went anywhere and only served as a device to make a couple of minor things happen. The whole sub-plot could have easily been jettisoned in my opinion.

Another thing that distracted me was that immediately after Jack and the kids get finished fighting an alien bounty hunter. called a Siphon, and then narrowly escape being pursued by the same bounty hunter who chases them in a space ship, Jack has an bafflingly hard time believing Sara when she tells him that they are from another planet! I thought that the point for him to abandon his disbelief was back when the seemingly indestructible Siphon first fired his Boba Fett-style wrist rockets.

There was another moment that I thought was going to disappoint me, but when it didn’t finish the way I was expecting it to, it only made me enjoy the movie even more. Like I wrote in an article about bad foreshadowing a few years back, whenever a trusted character in a movie tells the protagonists not to trust anyone, we usually see by the end of the movie, that the person they were weren’t supposed to trust is usually that same “trusted character” who says something like, “didn’t I tell you not to trust anyone?” Two movies that do this are Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade and Minority Report (both Steven Spielberg movies, hmm). Well, all I can say is when a particular character in this movie said, “don’t trust anyone,” I actually groaned because I thought for sure this was setting him up to be a traitor in the end. To my surprise it didn’t turn out at all the way I was expecting it to, and I really enjoyed what they ended up doing with the character.

I was happy to see the two grown-up stars from the original Escape to Witch Mountain, Kim Richards and Ike Eisenmann, in small parts as people who lend them helping hands in a restaurant.

In many ways I don’t think that the marketing for this movie did it justice. I don’t know what I was expecting out of it, but I sure wasn’t expecting to enjoy it as much as I did. The nice thing about this movie is that I never felt like I was patiently sitting through a kids movie waiting for the credits, but I also never thought that I was watching a show that was too mature for my 9 and 11 year old daughters who were sitting with me. The director, Andy Fickman, did an excellent job of making a well-rounded piece of entertainment that all ages will enjoy. Definitely a movie I would recommend and very much worth watching in the theater.

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