The '70s were not a good time for Disney. Not only were their animated "masterworks" failing to live up to their flawless ancestry, but their live action efforts -- Super Dad, Castaway Cowboy -- were truly testing audience patience. In 1975, British director John Hough, responsible for the genre hit The Legend of Hell House, was hired to adapt Alexander Key's 1968 novel Escape to Witch Mountain into a feature film. The story of two children possessing paranormal powers, and the extraterrestrial origins of said skills, became one of the company's few hits of the day.
It was so popular that they made a sequel (1978's Return to Witch Mountain), a '90s TV movie, and now a full blown remake starring former wrestling icon Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson. While the title suggests a sort of urgency, there really was no need to create this Race to Witch Mountain. While enjoyable, it's largely foolish and forgettable. Article continues below
With a sci-fi convention in town, ex-con taxi driver Jack Bruno (Johnson) is growing tired of Las Vegas. So when two young teens, Sara (AnnaSophia Robb) and Seth (Alexander Ludwig) commandeer his cab and ask him for his help, our hero reluctantly agrees. He soon finds out that his charges are actual ETs, sent from their home planet to save Earth from an imminent invasion. With the help of quasi-crackpot scientist, Dr. Alex Friedman (Carla Gugino), her conspiracy theory buddy Dr. Donald Harlan (Garry Marshall), and a lot of UFO legend, he must help the kids relocate their downed spacecraft. Unfortunately, it's in the hands of evil government agent Henry Burke (Ciarán Hinds) who wants the special space-kids for his own wicked experiments.
Race to Witch Mountain is the perfect example of an "almost" experience. It's "almost" a decent action film, through director Andy Fickman wouldn't know the first thing about capturing and editing stuntwork. This is a sloppy-looking effort. It's "almost" science fiction, though science foolish would be a better term. This alien mumbo jumbo is about as believable as Mac and Me. It's "almost" a comedy, both Johnson and costar Gugino delivering out of place one-liners like they're the main attraction at a Shriner's convention. And it's "almost" entertaining, resorting to broad manipulation and unexplained subtext to keep the audience rooting for the heroes and hissing the mandatory government ops bad guys. For all its lame effects and illogical narrative turns, like the proverbial horseshoes and nuclear warheads, it "almost" works.
Let's face it -- when the best bits of your remake are the extended cameos from original Witch Mountain kids Kim Richards (as a sympathetic waitress) and Ike Eisenmann (as a no nonsense sheriff), there's not much chance to make a classic. But Fickman, who found a way to make Johnson both likeable and larger than life in their previous hit collaboration, The Game Plan, here strands his star with a one-note storyline. Once our alien teens take over his taxi, Jack is going nowhere but forward. The film then becomes an obstacle course, with characters avoiding confrontations with a Predator/Terminator-like bounty hunter, the mysterious U.S. agents, and anything remotely resembling seriousness. Taking a huge chunk out of the '80s primer on big screen bombast, our leads have to quip about everything as bombs, lasers, and bullets go off around them.
The end result is a textbook "crowd pleaser," a movie made to really resonate with the lowest common denominators in the demographic. Kids will love the explosions and cheesy futuristic falderal. Fans of The Rock will get more of his genial, jokey persona. There's danger, derring-do, and even a helpful junkyard dog (no, seriously). As an artistic statement, it's "almost" as bad as Disney's Me Decade track record. As mindless escapism, it fits the bill.