City Paper is not for tourists
For much of its first act, Race to Witch Mountain is funny, intriguing, exciting, and even a little scary. Not bad for yet another “reimagining” of a Disney classic (replace “Race” with “Escape” and you’ve got the 1975 original)—particularly one starring the Rock (Dwayne Johnson, to the nonwrestling world). Johnson plays Jack Bruno, an ex-con who drives a Las Vegas cab and is trying not to get pulled back into some sort of nefarious business. While he’s busy jawing with some thugs one day, a couple of kids, Seth (Alexander Ludwig) and Sara (AnnaSophia Robb), suddenly appear in his taxi. They flash a wad of cash, give Jack coordinates instead of an address, and are all about formal English, repeatedly calling him “Jack Bruno” and referring to the car door as a “portal.” The tweens turn out to be aliens, of course, and soon Department of Defense baddies (headed by elegant Irish actor Ciarán Hinds) are chasing them, and…well, the chase never ends, really, until the finale’s syrupy send-off. The relentless cat-and-mouse makes The Game Plan director Andy Fickman’s latest nothing more than a lot of sound and fury (with a quick global-warming message thrown in) that seems to signify boredom. As extraterrestrials, Seth and Sara get to do cool things like change their molecular density (e.g., flip a speeding truck merely by standing in front of it) or move stuff with their minds, but having superpowers doesn’t do the young thesps any favors. Ludwig, whose most notable film to date has been The Sandlot 3, may always be android-blank, but Bridge to Terabithia’s Robb has proved she’s capable of more than simply looking like a perpetually startled porcelain doll. No acting awards, either, for Carla Gugino, who plays an astrophysicist, or Escape’s stars, Ike Eisenmann and Kim Richards, who have obvious they-used-to-be-somebody! cameos. For a PG-rated movie, Race to Witch Mountain is awfully explosive, its intended thrill ride full of fireballs, car wrecks, and giant guns instead of more organic excitement. You’re not even clued into the details of the kids’ mission—something about gathering evidence of life-regeneration on Earth and finding their spaceship—until about midway through, by which point Witch Mountain has become less of a race than a slog.