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Race To Witch Mountain (2009) Print E-mail
Wednesday, 18 March 2009
ImageI’m not a wrestling fan at all. I think it’s juvenile and bereft of any positive values. However, I do quite like The Rock. No, I never watched him wrestle, but his out of the ring career has been enjoyable. Even as he’s abandoned “The Rock” moniker for his real name (Dwayne Johnson), and geared himself towards middle of the road and family comedies, I think he’s charismatic enough to hold his own on the screen.

And truly, charisma is the only thing Race To Witch Mountain has going for it. The latest in the Witch Mountain series, which started with Escape To Witch Mountain and then continued with Return To Witch Mountain, is barely above the level of a Sci-Fi Channel original picture, with only the charm of its actors to distinguish it.

Johnson plays Jack Bruno, an ex-con who now drives a cab in Las Vegas. He hates his job, hates his life, but is determined to stay out of trouble. Trouble finds him, though, when two kids, Sara (AnnaSophia Robb) and Seth (Alexander Ludwig) appear in his cab, demanding he take them to a remote desert location, and offering a giant wad of money. Soon Jack finds himself on the run not just from the Feds, but also a mysterious alien assassin. Turns out the kids themselves are aliens, sent on a dangerous mission to save their planet. Should they fail, the military of their home world will colonize Earth. Realizing the danger, Jack turns to a former cab fare, Dr. Alex Friedman (Carla Gugino), an astrophysicist. Together, the quartet risk life and limb to get the kids back to their ship, entombed at Witch Mountain, in order to complete their mission. Race To Witch Mountain begins artlessly, with a UFO crash-landing that offers no suspense or tension. Director Andy Fickman seems incapable of understanding how to shoot and cut film to create actual excitement, or at times, even a coherent sequence. The action is worse than ho-hum, with Fickman’s shot choices often sabotaging the intended effect. The man has no sense of geography, meaning that the action often appears to be in an ever-changing physical environment. It’s disorienting and confusing. Character development is also generally non-existent. What we’re left with is the acting ability of the cast.

Dwayne Johnson is a likeable guy. He’s not an everyman, but he’s got a common touch that allows him to connect with audiences. Things are no different in Witch Mountain, where he shoulders the film’s shortcomings with a relaxed smile and a decent performance. Carla Gugino holds her own, although she doesn’t have much to do aside from standing around looking good (and, by Jove, she most certainly does). Generally the two work together well, although the idea that an astrophysicist falling so quickly and thoroughly for an ex-con cabbie is a little far fetched. Also, there is one particular shot where the pair exhibit some laughably bad facial acting, but I blame that more on bad direction than anything else.

The real surprise of the film is AnnaSophia Robb as Sara. While she’s meant to be playing an emotionless alien, she actually has quite a positive screen presence. Looking at her filmography, it appears she played Violet Beauregarde in Tim Burton’s remake of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, so perhaps it’s no surprise that she rises above the poor direction that threatens to tumble the film into oblivion. She is someone to watch, to be sure.

Aside from the actual direction, the art direction and film’s designs are depressingly generic. Except for the scenes that take place on the Vegas strip (and even these shots tend to eschew showing off much in favor of focusing on the interior of Jack’s cab), the film looks bland. There is one major exception: An underground alien planet preserve that looks like something you might see in an outtake from E.T. It’s a tantalizing glimpse of what could have been. The alien assassin who follows the group is also thoroughly uninteresting, looking like a reject from Battlestar Galactica…the original 70’s series. Also, this picture continues Disney’s inexplicable run of films that feature a country song for no valid reason.

By the time Race To Witch Mountain winds down to its inevitable happy ending, I can’t imagine any audience member actually caring about the story. They may feel some affection for the characters, especially Jack and Sara, but the good will only makes me wish that much more that the pair had been placed in a film worthy of their performances. Come on Disney, I know you can do better than this.

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