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Race to Witch Mountain
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by Peter Sobczynski

"My Life Would Suck Without U.F.O."
2 stars

In the period spanning from the time of the death of its beloved founder in 1966 to its eventual revival in the mid-1980’s, the cinematic output from Walt Disney Pictures was a dire lot indeed--their releases during this low period consisted of regular reissues of their back catalogue of animation classics, their increasingly rare new forays into the format and a series of increasingly lame live-action films involving the strained and silly misadventures of place-kicking mules, shaggy district attorneys, cats from outer space and anthropomorphic Volkswagens that were aimed strictly at the youngest and most undiscriminating viewers (and even they didn’t like them that much) and which kept people like Dean Jones and Tim Conway in grocery money. According to many histories written about this period in the history of the studio, the reason for doing these painfully formulaic work was because the people running the place were gripped with the notion of making the kind of films that Walt himself might have made if he were still alive. What they failed to remember or understand is that Disney was an innovator who was always willing to take risks on new ventures instead of rehashing past successes--instead of milking the huge success of “The Love Bug” (which was the most popular film of 1969, you will recall) with three needless sequels, he most likely would have used that money to fund three entirely different and potentially unique projects. In fact, the few Disney films from this era that have managed to stand the test of time and are worth watching these days are the ones that did shake things up a little bit--things like “Freaky Friday,” “Tron,” “Something Wicked This Way Comes” and even “The Black Hole.” (Yeah, it is basically an outer-space version of “20,000 Leagues Under the Sea” but it does come with one of the trippiest finales ever filmed.)

Another one of their rare successes during this time was 1975’s “Escape from Witch Mountain,” a film which told the story of a pair of orphaned siblings with mysterious telepathic and telekinetic powers Eventually, they realize that they are part of a party of aliens from a dying world who have come to our planet to set up a new life inside the remote Witch Mountain and, with the help of a kindly widower with a Winnebago, they set off an a journey to be reunited with their people while trying to avoid the clutches of a ruthless millionaire who wants to exploit their powers for evil purposes. Unlike most of the Disney films of this period, this one was smartly conceived and excitingly executed--even a little scary at some points--to such a degree that it wound up appealing to little kids and parents/older siblings alike. You would think that if the studio was going to do a remake of the film, they would want to try to preserve those qualities in order to provide a new generation of kids with the same kind of thrilling experience that their parents had when they were younger. And yet, “Race to Witch Mountain” is anything but smart and exciting--it is instead a loud, noisy and pointless endeavor that is just as negligible and formulaic as anything that the studio did during those darker times.

Using relatively little of the original film, this new version stars Dwayne Johnson as Jack Bruno, an ex-con trying to go straight as a cabbie in Las Vegas even as his former criminal associates continually try to force him back into the fold. One day, while the city is teeming with some kind of UFO convention, he discovers Sara (AnnaSophia Robb) and Seth (Alexander Ludwig), a pair of slightly odd and ultra-blonde siblings who offer him an enormous amount of money to out to the middle of the desert in search of some mysterious object. It turns out, of course, that the two kids are actually aliens from a faraway dying planet and the object in question shows how it can regenerate itself. To make a long story short, which seems almost impossible at this point, unless the kids retrieve their now-missing spacecraft and return home with this information, their fellow aliens will launch an all-out attack in order to conquer Earth. Among those trying to help them in achieving their goal is Dr. Alex Friedman (Carla Gugino), a scientist type whose head is so filled with theories about life in outer space that she can’t be bothered to button her blouse all the way and Dr. Donald Harlan (Garry Marshall), another UFO-obsessed conspiracy freak who is convinced that the kids’ spaceship has been stowed in the top-secret government installation hidden in the confines of the remote Witch Mountain. Among those trying to prevent them from achieving their goal is Henry Burke (Ciaran Hinds), one of those top-level government officials whose first instinct upon discovering a pair of actual aliens is to strap them to tables with the intention of dissecting them, and Siphon (Tom Wodruff Jr.), some kind of alien creature trying to kill off Sara and Seth for reasons that are never exactly made 100% clear.

A good deal of what is wrong with “Race to Witch Mountain” is the fact that it never seems quite sure what kind of audience it is trying to reach. As a film aimed straight as children, it doesn’t work because the action is too noisy and intense for younger viewers (including a truly bizarre moment in which the bad guys unload a hail of bullets at the good guys in a slo-mo barrage that resembles an homage to “The Wild Bunch”) and the focus of the story has strangely shifted from the kids to their protector--his dream of one day owning the same kind of car that Steve McQueen drove in “Bullitt” (a detail unlikely to impress many kids, outside of the cool ones) is given virtually the same import as the kids trying to save the Earth from alien conquest. At the same time, the film is far too juvenile for older viewers--despite the numerous chases, explosions and close escapes, there is never any real sense of tension or excitement on display and the screenplay is so jam-packed with unlikely coincidences that it tries to deflect any potential criticism by having a couple of characters actually discuss those unlikely coincidences. As a big-budget sci-fi spectacular, it doesn’t really work because none of the big set-pieces are particularly memorable, save for a reasonably hair-raising bit involving a pursuit through a train tunnel. And even though the cast is filled with undeniably engaging performers such as Johnson and Gugino, they are too busy being jerked around by the various plot machinations to ever get a chance to show their stuff. (The only one who makes any real impression is Garry Marshall and that is only because I kept imagining that he was playing a gone-to-seed version of the character he played in an earlier Vegas-set film that he did, a little thing called “Lost in America.”)

In a coincidence almost as absurd as some of the ones contained within the film, I happened to see “Race to Witch Mountain” the day after seeing another remake of a beloved childhood classic, the new version of “Last House on the Left.” Like that film, “Race to Witch Mountain” is a slick but pointless work that will probably do well for a weekend or two but which will quickly fade from memory even as the original continues to attract new legions of fans. Unlike “Last House on the Left,” the makers of “Race to Witch Mountain” have chosen to acknowledge the fan base for the original by throwing in a few nods here and there--the cast listing includes such characters as “Analyst D. Pleasance” and “General E. Albert” in honor of Donald Pleasance and Eddie Albert, the two adult stars of the first film and both Kim Richards and Ike Eisenmann, the original wonder twins, pop up in a scene at a roadhouse where they help their new incarnations escape from the authorities. For fans of the original, these moments are nice enough, I suppose, but I am willing to bet that most of them will find themselves wishing that the filmmakers had spent less time on such trivial nonsense and more time on coming up with something that was actually worthy of comparison to the real “Witch Mountain.”

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=17537&reviewer=389
originally posted: 03/13/09 00:44:13
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User Comments

7/14/11 art i did not write that september 09 review,This was a Neat remake of the 19 75 one 4 stars
3/18/09 Total Crap The Rock is cooking up something WICKED! Should race back to WWE mountain. 1 stars
3/17/09 james obrien very very bad 2 stars
3/17/09 Luke Meighan Good for younger viewers. No adult themes to worry about, like herpes etc. 4 stars
3/15/09 Brandon Allin Bland, bland, and bland. Very uninteresting. 2 stars
3/15/09 Yo MTV Raps Yo stinka! 1 stars
3/14/09 Miguel It was a good movie that held my interest, my niece and nephew. 3 stars
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  13-Mar-2009 (PG-13)
  DVD: 04-Aug-2009


  DVD: 04-Aug-2009

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