If you want to see how much the world has changed over
the last few decades, all you have to do is compare this movie with
Escape from Witch Mountain – the 1975 Disney film which “inspired” it.
As suggested by the title change, compared to Race,
Escape is incredibly slow moving. That film’s idea of cool special
effects was dancing puppets and a flying Winnebago. This movie has
spaceships, car crashes, submachine gun fire and alien assassins. That
film’s idea of a protective adult figure was Eddie Albert. Here it is The
Rock. (Oh, sorry – Dwayne Johnson – he seems to have totally dumped his
wrestling name.) In Escape, two alien children were around ten and
trying to make their way back home. In Race, they are teens who are
SAVING THE EARTH! In Escape, the bad guys were businessmen and rednecks.
Here they are the federal government and an alien assassin. The kids even
traded up from a magic cat to a magic dog.
However, being busier and having more special effects
does not necessarily make the new movie better than its predecessor. Now it
is just hardwired with thrills for the PlayStation generation. When the
first film came out, Pong was the state of the art. Things moved slower
back then and may have made you think a little more rather than just react.
to Witch Mountain is less interested in our interplanetary visitors than
it is in trying to position Johnson as a force in family-friendly comedies.
Now it is all about lights, sound, special effects
and gunfire – but in a cartoonish enough manner that the film’s target
audience, kids and young teens, will not be scarred by the experience. It
is action-light, with quips defusing explosions. As a matter of fact, the
alien kids are sort of supporting players in their own story here.
Of course, this makes me feel a knee-jerk reaction to remind Disney that
tough guys starring in kids’ films are almost never a good idea. Do we
really need to remind them of Arnold Schwarzenegger in Jingle All the
Way, Hulk Hogan in Mr. Nanny or Vin Diesel in The Pacifier?
Or for that matter, even Johnson’s weak The Game Plan, which was directed by the same
journeyman who has helmed this film?
That said – yes, Race to Witch Mountain is entertaining on its own
The Rock… sorry Johnson, I still can’t get used to him having a real name…
has a likeable comic presence and is obviously a talented stunt performer.
No, he really can’t pull off serious dramatic moments, but the film doesn’t
burden him with much heavy lifting.
The alien teens are somewhat underutilized – AnnaSophia Robb in particular
is way too talented an actress for this one note role. Speaking of good
actresses who are completely wasted, Carla Gugino is given so little to do
as a Professor who teaches the science of UFOs that she disappears from the
film for huge chunks of time and you really don't notice
she is no longer there. Garry Marshall has his normal good time as a
rival UFO hunter – he isn’t doing anything different here
than he has in any other film or television role he has ever played,
but he does have his persona nailed.
Plus, the grown-up original Escape kids, Kim
Richards and Iake Eissinman (as a kid actor, he had Anglicized his name to
Ike Eisenman) do good-natured (if dramatically a bit broad) cameos as the
world's most helpful cocktail waitress and a local sheriff with control
doubt that small children who see Race to Witch Mountain now will
hold it in such high regard as people of my age group hold the original, but
it mostly gets the job done as a fast-paced, rather funny, somewhat violent
Jay S. Jacobs
Copyright ©2009 PopEntertainment.com.
All rights reserved. Posted: March 15, 2009.