Race to Witch Mountain
Here’s a bedtime story, The Rock style … GO TO BED!

Theatrical Release Date: 03/13/2009
Director: Andy Fickman
Cast: Dwayne Johnson, AnnaSophia Robb, Alexander Ludwig, Carla Gugino, Ciarán Hinds, Tom Everett Scott, Chris Marquette, Garry Marshall

Apparently, Friday the 13th isn’t only about superstitions and horror films – it’s also about remakes/reboots to franchises. Last month, “Friday the 13th” itself was “reborn” on its namesake date and now with Friday, March the 13th upon us, audiences can now have both “The Last House on the Left” and “Race to Witch Mountain” being refashioned for the new millennium.

In “Race to Witch Mountain”, two alien kids come to Earth to recover an object vital to the survival of both their planet and ours. Getting in their way is an alien assassin and a shadowy agency of the U.S. government bent on their capture and study. Of course, neither of those obstacles are a match for you when you hire The Rock as your Las Vegas cab driver (Can you smell what The Rock is driving?).

Knowing those elements, you can probably map out the film for yourself and come up with a close approximation of how the plot will unfold. And not unexpectedly, one doesn’t watch this Disney family film for the highly innovative script (smell the sarcasm). No, you’re in the theater to sit back and enjoy a safe sci-fi flick, maybe with a few pre-teenagers in tow, that won’t elevate your state of consciousness but also won’t leave you feeling like that was an hour and a half you’ll never get back.

In fact, one of the most pleasantly surprising discoveries I made was that this “update” to the franchise managed to leave me with a similar warm and fuzzy feeling as the original did back when I was too young to drive, shave or reach the top shelf (I still have a little problem with that last part thanks to 50% of my genetic material being Asian … oh, who am i kidding, all three give me trouble). While I still don’t condone repackaging material simply because one already owns the rights and wants to make a quick buck rather than risk attempting to create a new franchise, at least the spirit of the original was present in the film.

Obviously, the key to making the film work as well as it does is a likable cast. Dwayne “stop calling me The Rock” Johnson is one those personalities that pop on screen. Director Andy Fickman worked with him previously on “The Game Plan” and so it’s no surprise to see the same level of clean and energetic fun delivered this go around. There isn’t anything new to the character that we haven’t seen from Johnson before but it still works well.

AnnaSophia Robb and Alexander Ludwig play the alien kids about as well as the script and director allowed. The fish out of water theme you’d expect was haphazardly applied to their roles – affecting their robotic and clumsy use of the English language but missing when it came to their understanding of Earth machinery and dogs. (Of course there’s a dog … this is a Disney film.) Ludwig comes off as a bit too rigid in comparison to the softness radiating from Robb but that was probably the point. Perhaps under different guidance, or with a different actor, this could have been reconciled more effectively but it’s not enough to cause too much concern.

The supporting cast all turned in performances befitting a film of this genre. Carla Gugino plays a professionally maligned astrophysicist enlisted to help Dwayne and the E.T.’s (sounds like a band name). Ciarán Hinds lends some gravitas to his slimy government character and gets help from his lackeys, Tom Everett Scott and Christopher Marquette. And there’s a very funny cameo by Garry Marshall as a UFO conspiracy nut. He brought just the right amount of crazy to the party and helped to keep the film’s tone more firmly slanted towards fun and adventure.

The bottom line here is deciding what type of film you’re looking for. The reveal of the alien assassin was reminiscent of “The Last Starfighter” and might be a little shocking to really young kids but none of the ones in the screening audience appeared to be too disturbed by it. Aside from that element, this is an entertaining family-oriented film that will keep both child and adult fairly happy.

Sure, it’s not cutting edge and some of the less than stellar special effects won’t appeal to audiences looking for better action. But the film does accomplish what it intended to do and so I’ll give “Race to Witch Mountain” a solid 3 out of 5. I might have given it another point (factoring in its genre) had the score not been so over handed and if the colors in the film had been a little less saturated (at times, some of them were far too bright). Still, it’s almost a throwback to the sci-fi kids movies like “Flight of the Navigator” (almost I said) and that’s alright in my book.