by Mel Valentin
The “Rock” is back and better than ever. Actually, that’s not right. Dwayne “Don’t Call Me the Rock” Johnson, former University of Miami linebacker, former WWE wrestling star-turned-action-genre-star took a sharp, unexpected turn into the family comedy genre with his most recent film, "The Game Plan." While many of Johnson’s fans balked at the change of acting pace, family audiences made "The Game Plan" a surprise box-office hit (to the tune of $90 million). Johnson’s latest film, "Race to Witch Mountain," a remake of the 1975 Disney family film based on Alexander Key’s novel, "Escape to Witch Mountain," reunites him with his "Game Plan" director, Andy Fickman ("She’s the Man," "Reefer Madness") for a an-all-things-to-all-audiences, family-oriented, action-heavy, science fiction comedy.Race to Witch Mountain partly centers on Sara (AnnaSophia Robb) and Seth (Alexander Ludwig), twins from another planet, as they try to evade capture by adults eager to exploit their super-normal powers (she’s telepathic and telekinetic and he’s capable of changing his molecular density) . The remake/reimagining changes the names of the siblings from Tia and Tony to Sara and Seth, blond-haired, blue-eyed innocents whose saucer-shaped spaceship crashes near Las Vegas, Nevada. Agents from an unnamed super-secret government agency arrive almost immediately at the crash site. Led by Henry Burke (Ciarán Hinds), the agency hopes to exploit the ship’s advanced technology and capture the ship’s inhabitants, presumably for interrogation and, if necessary, experimentation, all for the greater (as in “our”) good.
"Yet another Dwayne "Don't-Call-Me-The-Rock" Johnson family-oriented film."
Sara and Seth manage to evade capture and end up in Vegas. There, they jump into a cab operated by Jack Bruno (Dwayne Johnson), an ex-felon and ex-wheel man for a local mobster. Bruno initially balks when his new passengers give him a vague address outside Las Vegas, but relents when Seth shows him a thick wad of cash. Almost immediately, Burke and his men find Bruno and give chase. Confusing Burke’s men for his former associates, Bruno manages to outrun them. Once he discovers the truth about Sara and Seth (and their mission), Bruno seeks out Dr. Alex Friedman (Carla Gugino), a discredited astrophysicist in Vegas for a presentation at the annual UFO Expo. Bruno also has to protect Sara and Seth from a Siphon (Tom Woodruff Jr./ Paul Darnell), an alien assassin sent to Earth to eliminate the aliens.
Matt Lopez and Mark Bomback’s screenplay is predictable, by-the-numbers, and cliché-heavy. Although Race to Witch Mountain departs from 1975 Disney film and Alexander Key’s source novel in several major ways, substituting a super-secret government agency for a greedy millionaire and gives Sara and Seth a environmentally themed mission, it’s been rewritten into a chase-oriented action film (albeit a PG-rated action film with zero bloodshed) with a “new” central character, Jack Bruno (a part specifically written for Johnson). As a story-contributing character, Bruno feels superfluous and unnecessary (because, unfortunately, he is). Thanks to their X-Men-like superpowers, Sara (c.f., Jean Grey) and Seth (c.f., Kitty Pryde) can do almost anything. Since Sara can manipulate machinery (i.e., drive), it’s unclear why they did Bruno’s car or his services. Take Bruno out of Race to Witch Mountain, rewrite a few chase and/or action scenes to make Sara and Seth more active, and you have essentially the same film.
Fickman handles the sci-fi oriented action scenes competently, but not much else. While AnnaSophia Robb and Alexander Ludwig turn in more than adequate performances as Sara and Seth, respectively, the real or principal reason for seeing Race to Witch Mountain remains Johnson. Fickman and his screenwriters were smart enough to exploit Johnson’s physical abilities (he can handle most of his own stunts), but they failed to use Johnson’s comedic timing to full effect, as other directors have in Johnson’s previous films (e.g., Get Smart, Be Cool, The Rundown). Fickman gives Johnson weak one-liners (which you’ve already seen in the trailers or TV ads) which, in turn, tend to emphasize Bruno’s redundancy as a character.Fickman does little with the supporting cast as well. Fickman gives two members of Burke’s team, Matheson (Tom Everett Scott) and Pope (Chris Marquette), screen time but only uses them for minor bits of comic relief (none of them funny). On the plus side, Fickman gives Kim Richards and Ike Eisenmann, the stars of "Escape to Witch Mountain," cameos in "Race to Witch Mountain." Richards plays a waitress at a roadside diner and Eisenmann plays the local sheriff who runs afoul of Burke and his men. Their presence in the remake/reimaging serves as a reminder (at least for nostalgic fans of the 1975 film) that bigger (visual effects, action scenes, etc.) isn’t necessarily better. Sometimes, it’s worse (much, much worse).
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originally posted: 03/13/09 04:04:12