Dir: Andy Fickman. US. 2009. 98 mins.
A ‘reimagining’ of Disney’s 1975 live action favourite crafted as a vehicle for Dwayne Johnson, Race To Witch Mountain is a so-so kids movie which should attract a mid-size family audience and enduring popularity as a home entertainment title. Made on a modest budget with endearingly shabby special effects, it will deliver some tidy profits to the studio which continues its successful programme of mining its library for remakes (Freaky Friday, The Parent Trap, Flubber, That DarnCat).
The target demographic here is the undemanding pre-teen audience which has not yet been schooled in Batman or Harry Potter. In the conservative middle US, that audience should never be underestimated as Disney proved in 2007 with another Johnson vehicle directed by Andy Fickman called The Game Plan, a family football comedy which grossed over $90m in the US and a surprisingly healthy $57m in international. This film could do as well if not better, especially if adults who remember the 1970s franchise with affection take their own children to see a new version.
The plot of Alexander Key’s original 1968 (pseudo-Christian) sci-fi novel and that of the 1975 film have been abandoned here in favour of a Las Vegas-set reworking from Matt Lopez, who scripted Disney’s Christmas hit Bedtime Stories. The two children Tony and Tia are now Sara (Robb) and Seth (Ludwig) and instead of orphans who find out that they are aliens, they’re fully self-aware aliens who have crash landed in the Nevada desert and are desperate to get their ship back from the mysterious government agency which has taken possession of it.
The film opens in fact with the crash and a string of scenes stolen from ET (dark-suited men with torches explore the rustic crash site) and Close Encounters (the area is cordoned off by the authorities under false pretences).
We first meet Johnson’s ex-con Jack Bruno trying to go straight as a taxi driver in Vegas, driving all manner of crazies and nerds (academic Carla Gugino among them) to a UFO convention at the Hard Rock Hotel. When the two children/aliens get into his cab, they produce a wad of cash and ask to drive out of the city and deep into the heart of the desert. The authorities aren’t far behind, however, and a race ensues as Bruno and the children attempt to reach Witch Mountain with Gugino in tow, pursued by the dastardly government agent Burke (Hinds) as well as by Siphon, a deadly soldier from the children’s planet who is out to kill them.
In the tradition of Disney live-action films from the 70s, it’s all very low rent, with cameos from the likes of Cheech Marin and Garry Marshall and the original child actors from the 70s films Kim Richards and Iake (formerly Ike) Eissinmann. Johnson is a perfect candidate to lead the B-grade proceedings. An unlikely star of limited acting talent, the former wrestler (aka The Rock) carries the film along with an easygoing charm, which at worst is inoffensive.
Walt Disney Pictures
Walt Disney Studios
Matt Lopez & Mark Bomback, based on a screen story by Matt Lopez from the book by Alexander Key
David J Bomba
Tom Everett Scott