MRR Movie Review: Race to Witch Mountain

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A Las Vegas cabbie enlists the help of a UFO expert to protect two siblings with paranormal powers from the clutches of an organization that wants to use the kids for their nefarious plans.
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Movie Review: "Race to Witch Mountain"

-- Rating: PG
Length: 98 minutes
Release Date: Mar. 13, 2009
Directed by: Andy Fickman
Genre: Action/Adventure

"Race to Witch Mountain" is a science-fiction action film intended primarily for young teenagers. It is the third feature film to be based on Alexander Key's novel "Escape to Witch Mountain," which was originally published in 1968. The director is Andy Fickman, and the stars include Dwayne Johnson, Carla Gugino, Ciarán Hinds, Alexander Ludwig, and AnnaSophia Robb.

The film opens with an alien spaceship crashing near Las Vegas, Nevada. Henry Burke (Ciarán Hinds) arrives with a task force sent by the Department of Defense. They seize the ship but fail to find its passengers. Jack Bruno (Dwayne Johnson) is a former getaway driver for the mob who is now driving a cab. He takes scientist Dr. Alex Friedman (Carla Gugino) to a hotel, where he will present a speech at a UFO convention.

Bruno later picks up teenagers Seth (Alexander Ludwig) and Sara (AnnaSophia Robb), who offer Bruno $15,000 to take them to an abandoned house. Bruno evades government agents using Seth's ability to alter molecular density, and they arrive at the old house. The group enters an underground laboratory to find a device. An alien assassin known as a Siphon attacks the group and Seth is knocked out.

Bruno and Sara carry Seth into the cab and escape with the Siphon in pursuit. They evade the Siphon and Burke's agents by using Sara's telekinetic and telepathic abilities. Bruno drives to the UFO convention, where Dr. Friedman joins the group. The teenagers explain that they are from a planet 3,000 light years from Earth. Their planet is dying and their government is planning to invade Earth in order to survive. The two also explain that their parents are conducting an experiment to save their planet without invading Earth.

The siblings have come to Earth to retrieve the device that contains the results of the experiment, but their government sent the Siphon to stop them. The group must now retrieve the spaceship being held at a secret government installation known as Witch Mountain. This will allow the teenagers to return home and save both planets.

Walt Disney Pictures released the original "Escape to Witch Mountain" in 1975 as a light family film about two alien children with supernatural abilities. The studio did not have much confidence in the film and released it along with "Cinderella." "Escape to Witch Mountain" became a major hit and entered pop culture after the Vietnam War.

The 2009 film "Race to Witch Mountain" uses modern special effects but is just as pleasing as the original film. Screenwriters Mark Bomback and Matt Lopez reworked the original story in the Alexander Key novel to accommodate the strong screen presence of Dwayne The Rock Johnson, a former professional wrestler who has successfully made the transition into film acting.

Johnson appears to be at ease in a variety of roles, ranging from slapstick comedies such as "Get Smart" to the satire of "Southland Tales." He provides an imposing physical presence on the screen, yet he also has a well-developed sense of absurdity. Johnson's role as an ex-con in "Race to Witch Mountain" is a delight to watch as he takes his young charges on a series of chases throughout the Las Vegas area.

The excessively formal speech of Ludwig and Robb makes it clear to the audience that their characters are not ordinary children. They soon display their supernatural powers to Bruno, who quickly realizes they are aliens. Ciaran Hinds is the primary villain in "Race to Witch Mountain," as evidenced by his perpetual scowling. Garry Marshall plays his role as a UFO enthusiast with a variety of shticks that will remind older audience members of Henny Youngman.

Director Andy Fickman takes the title "Race to Witch Mountain" literally with the pacing in this film. The film is virtually a non-stop car chase that begins within 15 minutes after the opening credits roll. Johnson uses well-timed wisecracks to raise the script above the usual formula common to a children's chase film. Fans of this franchise may be interested to know that the actors who played the alien children in the original film both have cameos in "Race to Witch Mountain." Kim Richards is a waitress at a roadside restaurant and Ike Eisenmann is a sheriff.

Adults who take children to see this film should find that their money is well spent. The PG rating for this film comes primarily from the violence and action sequences. It also contains some adult themes and frightening situations.

Rating 3 out of 5