Race to Witch Mountain

racetowitchmountainposterstarring Dwayne Johnson, AnnaSophia Robb, and Alexander Ludwig
written by Matt Lopez and Mark Bomback & directed by Andy Fickman
Rated PG for sequences of action and violence, frightening and dangerous situations, and some thematic elements.

Jack Bruno (Johnson) is a Vegas cab driver with a shady past that he is trying to leave behind him. His quest for normalcy is complicated considerably by the unexpected appearance of two teenagers with a fat roll of cash who need a ride out into the desert. The two are siblings, Seth (Ludwig) and Sara (Robb), with some very unusual abilities. In fact, as Jack will soon discover, they are aliens on the run from both the United States government and an intergalactic assassin, and if he doesn’t help them recover their ship from the depths of a top secret facility at Witch Mountain, the fate of the human race will be very much in question.

This movie’s biggest asset is undoubtedly Dwayne Johnson, who has come a long way (at least in my estimation) from his days as “The Rock” playing roles like the title character of Mummy prequel The Scorpion King. Props to whoever first had the idea of handing him comedic roles. The man is a master of dry self-deprecation. His charisma keeps Race to Witch Mountain afloat when it feels like it should be sinking. Ludwig and Robb are also somewhat endearing as the alien children, but they feel a bit crippled at first by wooden “not-of-this-world” dialogue (which means that they are teenagers who speak English well).

Unfortunately, despite a strong effort from the cast, Race to Witch Mountain seems to be banking on a young, undiscriminating audience to compensate for lazy, shoddy production values. Director Andy Fickman must have been picked for the ability to bring movies in under budget, because his choices seem built around cutting corners. For an action-driven science fiction film released by a major studio, this has some of the shoddiest effects I have witnessed in recent memory, poorly disguised by shaky camerawork, lots of close-ups, and choppy editing.

The goal here was clearly to get the audience in, race (ha!) through the story, and move them out for the next group. This movie can’t be troubled to slow down for anything, setting up the story and characters in record time and then moving full-speed ahead for the duration. Even the rare moments of character-developing dialogue have tense music underscoring them or must be prematurely interrupted by yet-another chase sequence. This is not entirely a bad thing. After all, the movie is as long as it needs to be and it never drags. Still, I was hyper-aware of the economy of its storytelling throughout.

Johnson, the kids, and their supporting cast (which includes Carla Gugino, Ciaran Hinds, and Garry Marshall) go a long way towards deflecting these shortcomings, and the script is sporadically clever. Race to Witch Mountain may be cheap, forgettable entertainment, but it is undeniably entertaining. I suppose that’s all I would have asked of it, and as long as no one expects something more this will be a satisfying, painless experience.

~ by Jared on March 13, 2009.

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