Thursday, March 19, 2009

Race to Witch Mountain movie review

This 2009 sci-fi family film is adapted from an Alexander Key novel and is a remake, or rather reboot of the original 1975 Escape to Witch Mountain since it has very little to do with the original source material, novel or film. Starring Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, it’s directed by Andy Fickman who previously worked with the Rock on the classic film, The Game Plan. Seriously, the Rock has to start choosing better roles. Anyway, this one’s about ex convict Jack Bruno (played by The Rock) who saddened by where life has taken him, tries to live a proper life by driving a cab in Las Vegas. One day he picks up two teenagers who are chased by a shadowy group of individuals that will stop at nothing to capture them. The kids turn out to be aliens that are trying to save the Earth from inevitable destruction. Jack must use his driving skills to stay one step ahead of the shadowy Men in Black, and for once try to fight for and save someone other than himself.

Now, last week I reviewed the original 1975 Escape to Witch Mountain movie and was less than impressed by it. While it did have some interesting moments, it has dated incredibly poorly, and was a tried and true representation of 70’s and Disney live action films. So I didn’t come to this new remake as a fan of the original, take that for what you will. So in the end, was this remake a successful modernization of a Disney cult classic? Hell yes. Do they say hell in Disney films?

As I mentioned during the synopsis: shadowy Men in Black, an ex-con who happens to be an incredible driver, aliens here to see if we’re worth saving, this is a what’s what of lifted material. Race to Witch Mountain is like a mix of Transporter, Men in Black and The Day the Earth Stood still, mixed with Power Rangers action. It sounds absolutely terrible, and in a lot of ways it is, however, for me, it just works. It never tries to be more than it is, and for what it is, a copy of a lot of greatness, it’s quite good.

I mean the dialogue is witty, and the special effects were quite nice. The set pieces and pacing of the scenes, moving from action to dialogue, form information to homage, all really work. Also, I liked how they used the powers, the girl Sara had psychic abilities, she could read minds and move objects and the boy Seth could change his molecular structure making him indestructible. All nicely conveyed with impressive effects. However, while I did like much of the action, I must say that some of the action, damn, it looks like one of those Universal live stunt shows, like those old stunt shows with Indiana Jones flying by and jumping 20 feet in the air as an explosion propels him into the water- just like the Power Rangers tv show. Sometimes it all looks very cheesy, very kitschy, however it’s not so bad that it’ll take you out of the movie. It’s just well, it’s for kids and it’s Disney.

While this was a great update, the filmmakers did put in some nice touches, homage’s, for fans of the original Escape to Witch Mountain film. The two actors that played the main children in the original film, Kim Richards and Ike Eisenmann have great cameos in this film as “grownups” that help the alien children escape from the men pursuing them. This was a nice touch and you have to wonder if they were playing the same characters from the original, making this a sort of sequel since in the original they were called Tia and Tony, and now they’re called Tina and Anthony.

Yeah fantastic meta stuff. Also, the classic Winnebago that was so synonymous from the original film is back too, although sadly it doesn’t fly. But anyway, nice throwback from the filmmakers since I know they’re a lot of fans of the original film although sadly I am not one of them.

Let’s get into the acting. I’m a big Rock fan. I don’t care if he wants to go by Dwayne Johnson, I apologize, but he’ll always be The Rock to me. Sadly he hasn’t chosen the best of roles. Here he stars as the cab driver with a heart, because seriously what cab driver doesn’t have a heart of gold? But yeah he’s always charming, always muscley, always funny. So I liked him here a lot. The two alien kids Sara and Seth are played by AnnaSophia Robb and Alexander Ludwig. I don’t know too much about Alex, but his presence is one note here and it works for his character. However, I really think AnnaSophia is a great young actress. I mean she was brilliant in the heartbreaking Bridge to Terabithia (seriously that movie messed me up), and she’s great here too. I think she’s going to be big one day. Also Carla Gugino as the UFO science geek was good here too. A hot nerd, come on, that’s not clich├ęd. But yeah I like her in whatever she’s in. Two weeks back to back Watchmen and this movie. She’s making bank.

While I do find this film wonderfully enjoyable, it’s a heavily flawed movie. They’re plot holes galore and just scenes that make no sense. For instance at the beginning the alien craft crash lands, now the Men In Black have a slight idea that they may be hominid so they follow that line of tracking, which leads them a gas station in Texas which picked up some random electric signals which then led them to a bus at the same gas station, where they somehow picked out two teenage kids that weren’t originally on the bus. So they’re searching for aliens, see two kids with blond hair, and go “oh that must be them”, and it’s as simple as that. All this happens in less than 5 minutes. Now I’m no FBI/Government agent spook kind of guy, but I would think it would take 5 minutes to find aliens that could be anywhere in the world and look like anything. Just makes no sense. And then later on items disappear only to reappear in later scenes almost magically, and some of the plot points are never explained, causing the viewers to wonder how we got from point a to point b.

I have to say, I’m really surprised how much I enjoyed this film. It’s by no means an incredible film, it’s cheesy and at times cheap looking, but it’s just an incredibly fun ride. It can get quite intense at times and scary, but I think kids will enjoy it as well and unlike its predecessor, I think this one will appeal to both kids and adults alike. So I give this a “dvd/matinee” rating. Just don’t go in thinking you’re going to go watch Harry Potter. Go in knowing you’re watching a Disney live action film. With expectations that low, you can only go up from there.

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