Dwayne Johnson, Annasophia Robb, Carla Gugino, Alexander Ludwig, Ciaran Hinds DIRECTED BY
Andy Fickman SCREENPLAY
Matt Lopez, Mark Bomback MPAA RATING
Rated PG RUNNING TIME
Approx. 105 Mins. DISTRIBUTED BY
If you possess fond memories of Disney's 1975 family film, "Escape to Witch Mountain," then it's difficult for me to fathom that you'll come anywhere near appreciating this part remake, part re-imagining from director Andy Fickman ("The Game Plan") and starring Dwayne "I ain't no longer The Rock" Johnson along with Annasophia Robb ("Bridge to Terabithia") and Alexander Ludwig ("The Sandlot") as the two childlike aliens who find themselves racing to Witch Mountain so they can return back to their home after their spaceship lands on Earth.
If, however, you've never seen the far superior Disney original then you're likely to have a much deeper appreciation for this fairly action-packed, occasionally humorous and slightly more intense than usual Walt Disney presentation.
While I sure wasn't expecting cinematic brilliance here, I was hoping that the technology available nearly 35 years after the original film combined with that film's warmth and sweetness would combine for a similar experience to Disney's recent successes such as "Enchanted."
No such luck.
As I was leaving the promo screening for "Race to Witch Mountain," I looked at the marketing rep on my way out the door and simply rolled my eyes.
Before you accuse me of having any sort of critical bias against this type of film, I should acknowledge that I was really looking forward to "Race to Witch Mountain."
I LOVED the original film as a child.
I love good hearted, lightly comical family films.
I've frequently enjoyed Dwayne Johnson, even though he's clearly an actor of limited range.
Oh, and I absolutely adore Annasophia Robb, a young actress I've been following since her film debut in "Because of Winn-Dixie."
Despite the jeers and sneers of my wary co-workers, I found myself entering this screening tremendously hopeful.
I fully expected to enjoy "Race to Witch Mountain."
As a down on his luck cab driver who acquires somewhat involuntarily these otherworldly passengers, Dwayne Johnson simply misses the mark. Most noticeably, he lacks the conviction and warmth necessary to really get us, the audience, to buy into the fact that he becomes committed to the welfare of these "kids." While Johnson is fine in the action scenes, he pales in comparison to the memory of Eddie Albert from the 1975 original.
Likewise, Annasophia Robb and, especially, Alexander Ludwig are no match for the original's pairing of Kim Richards and Ike Eisenmann.
Robb has displayed moments of movie magic in her brief career, but here she's unconvincing, wooden and delivers some of the most ridiculously awkward and stilted dialogue seen onscreen this year. It seems as if her director, Andy Fickman, was going too much for the "alien" and not enough for the childlike charm that made us fall for Richards in the original.
Ludwig fares worse, with costuming and a haircut that make him look like a neo-nazi or one of the kids from "Children of the Corn."
While some may revel in the film's special effects, even the fight scenes are badly choreographed and special effects all too often look like the Disney side of Disney/Pixar.
That's not a compliment.
Despite so many things going wrong, there are moments in "Race to Witch Mountain" that make you think it may all turn out okay. Most notably, Carla Gugino shines as Dr. Friedman, a scientist who comes to the aid of the trio on the run while Garry Marshall does a nice job as a slightly nutty, conspiracy obsessed colleague of Dr. Friedman's. As the film's bad guy, Ciaran Hinds is more nondescript than good or bad.
Coming on the heels of the even more abysmal "Jonas Brothers 3-D Experience," "Race to Witch Mountain" is strike two in 2009 for Disney.
The one thing I can say for "Race to Witch Mountain" is this...as one of two remakes being released in theatres this weekend, the other being "Last House on the Left," it is BY FAR the best of the two.
Still, there's no reason for you to race to "Witch Mountain."