a critiQal film review Race to Witch Mountain (2009)

  • DVD
  • Blu-Ray

Plot: Jack Bruno (Johnson), a Las Vegas taxi driver, is swept up in the adventure of a lifetime when he meets Sara (Robb) and Seth (Ludwig), a pair of extraterrestrial youths who possess paranormal powers. In order to prevent an invasion of Earth, Jack must help the youths reach their spaceship, which is buried within Witch Mountain. But the task will not be easy, for government operatives and an alien bounty hunter are fast on their trail.

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  • ...thanks to an uncertainty by the filmmakers on which way to take the film, this remake comes out a bit befuddled, and only succeeds at all thanks to the innate talent of most of the cast.

Ex-WWE star The Rock – now going by Dwayne Johnson – seems to be a Disney kid-friendly staple. A surprise, since he was billed as the next big action star back when he was making films like Race to Witch Mountain is not only a Disney kids movie, it’s a remake – of Escape to Witch Mountain. Would he be able to keep us entertained in this family-friendly film, or will we miss his action roles that much more?

The Rock, er, Dwayne has changed a bit since he first started out. Back in the WWE, he was an action comedian, combining some hilarious promos with his acting in the ring. It seemed a natural thing for him to take that persona to film. Unfortunately, when he got to the big screen, he stayed more serious, and didn’t bring the funny. Still entertaining, his box office didn’t reflect his talent.

With his latest career path, he goes for the funny, and tends to leave the action out of the equation. While viewers seem to eat it up, it still seems to be missing something. Sure, he’s not bad – in this case as a cab driver – but he’s a more wussified version of himself, and still leaves old fans hoping he’ll return to the action hero genre soon.. While they will still go and see his films, they might feel somewhat awkward about it if they don’t bring kids.

Annasophia Robb, who was freaky as all get out in The Reaping (2007) brings her intensity to this much-lighter film and seems a bit ill-fitted for her role. She’s too serious for such a lighthearted movie, making the viewer feel like they aren’t grasping the severity of the situation. For such a kid-friendly film, that seems a bit odd.

Carla Gugino, on the other hand, with her experience on the Spy Kids (2001) series, knows just how to interact in this type of movie, and does the best job of fitting in with the feel of the film.

While the story is solid, and the whole “aliens as kids” setup convinces the viewer to stick around, the filmmakers don’t quite seem to know which way to go with Race to Witch Mountain. Should it be a comedy, or should it play out (as the situation seems to warrant) as a drama, or a fast-paced thriller? The filmmakers couldn’t quite seem to decide, so play this one with a bit of each. Unfortunately, that uncertainty comes through in the film, making moviegoers feel uncertain about the film as a whole.

The special effects take their cue from that uncertainty as well, with shots of high-powered CGI effects intermingled with rather more mundane (and somewhat cheesy-looking) effects – the alien bad guy chief amongst the latter. When he gets cheered at a UFO convention it’s almost painfully obvious that his getup really isn’t much better than the attire of the crowd, making the viewer wonder how serious they should take this alien bad guy. Is he just another costumed geek, or is he the bad alien assassin they’ve heard about?

If the filmmakers had a better idea of how they wanted Race to Witch Mountain to play out, it would have been a tremendous help for each and every part. The actors – who have shown they have the talent when needed – would have had a better understanding of their characters, and would have been able to give much more solid performances. As is, each actor brings their own widely varied interpretation to the film, resulting in a mishmash of emotional bases ranging from comedy to drama. Individually, each performance works, but taken as a whole, it’s just kind of a confusing mess.

Race to Witch Mountain is a bit befuddled and could have been so much better, but thanks to most of the talented cast, it’s not too disappointing – but it’s definitely a family film. So bring the kiddies along and the whole family should enjoy this much better than if the adults were watching this one alone.

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