The original Witch Mountain movies—which were live-action Disney sci-fi thrillers released in the ‘70s—depicted the adventures of brother and sister aliens who disguised themselves as humans and thwarted authorities during a dash to the titular mountain. Other beloved live-action Disney features such as The Parent Trap, The Shaggy Dog and The Absent-Minded Professor have been recently—and poorly—remade. By contrast, the new Race to Witch Mountain is fast and fun the whole way.
This time, a down-on-his-luck cab driver (Dwayne “the Rock” Johnson) agrees to drive the interstellar siblings (AnnaSophia Robb and Alexander Ludwig) out of Las Vegas and into the mountains, where he quickly finds himself thrust in the middle of an intergalactic war, where an alien bounty hunter is out to zap the kids.
The film has been too-tightly edited, with the first half feeling a bit rushed, as if director Andy Fickman wanted to get to the good stuff and briskly skim over the setup and character building scenes. Yet because the main character is played by Dwayne Johnson, who is very charismatic and appealing here, you want to spend more time with him before he spends half the movie behind the wheel of a car. Johnson has ace comic timing and is one of the most enjoyable action heroes in the movies right now; he may not have much of a role here, with most of the dialogue being “let’s go!”, but he makes the most of it and is always fun to watch.
Robb and Ludwig do what’s required of them, which is to act vaguely creepy and somehow remain sympathetic. Their characters are more plot devices than anything else and Robb, who was so affecting in Bridge to Terabithia, is capable of more than acting like a weird Martian girl. On the other hand, Carla Gugino is wonderful and, having spent three movies as the Spy Kids mom, is right at home in a family film and completely committed to her adorable character.
This is an above-average Disney live-action attraction that manages the rare feat of being appropriate for kids and edgy enough for parents. It also has enough sci-fi in-jokes and funny cameo appearances to make genre fans giddy.
The emphasis is on action over comedy and the movie peaks early with an exciting chase scene involving a taxi and a UFO. The special effects are sometimes top-notch but often obvious to the point of appearing phony. (It’s possible this was done on purpose, to pay tribute to the source.)
The movie is silly, and could have gone further with the satire. Still, my inner 8-year-old can’t resist a movie featuring a goofy UFO convention, a scary-looking alien, a hijacked spaceship and Johnson going mano y mano with an extraterrestrial. This is a guilty pleasure for adults and an all-out good time for keiki. MTW