Review: Why you shouldn't Race to Witch Mountain

If you have a wealth of brain cells to dispose of, skip that second viewing of Watchmen this weekend and check out Race to Witch Mountain. A stunningly incompetent family adventure film that fails on all levels of art, intelligence and even basic technical proficiency, Andy Fickman's second screen outing with Dwayne Johnson (aka The Rock) makes his first, the abominable The Game Plan, seem like a minor masterpiece.

Johnson plays Jack Bruno, a Las Vegas cabbie who becomes the unwilling protector of two kids, Sara (AnnaSophia Robb) and Seth (Alexander Ludwig) after they mysteriously turn up in the back of his cab. Not mere runaways but super-powered extraterrestrials, Sara and Seth land Jack in hot water when government agent Henry Burke (Ciaran Hinds) sets out in pursuit of these illegal aliens. Recruiting a comely UFO specialist named Alex Friedman (Carla Gugino) to help out, Jack races through the streets of Las Vegas to escape capture by the authorities while he frantically searches for a way to get Seth and Sara back to their ship and off planet Earth.

While it's probably important to note that the screening I attended was populated mostly by kids, the majority of whom raucously enjoyed the film, Race to Witch Mountain is virtually unenjoyable by anyone who knows the difference between the Disney Channel and Walt Disney Studios. Aside from bad special effects, nonsensical action scenes and a plot lumped together from the carcasses of ripoffs of classics (sadly, not including its 1975 predecessor Escape to Witch Mountain), not one line of dialogue exists except to push character and plot details forward in the plainest and most functional way possible.

Also, for a movie that's supposed to be about marveling at the mysteries of the universe, there's not one single moment in which the characters take a breath, step back and go, "Wow! There really is alien life out there? Let's think about what this could mean!" Admittedly, neither of the films that inspired this "re-imagining" are classics themselves, but their scruffy, low-budget charms were augmented by the fact that they at least had characters, with or without big special effects.

By comparison, Jack is a prototypical hard egg with a soft center, ready to melt at the sight of two Aryan children who talk in mechanical, expository phrases, while Friedman is a fussy, maternal scientist conveniently bereft of a boyfriend. Neither the child actors nor Johnson's considerable charisma nor his equally potent chemistry with Gugino is enough to overcome the demands of the terrible script or Fickman's "let's make the studio backlot look even smaller" directing style. While Johnson's determination and commitment to giving his all is admirable, the end result simply isn't worth the effort and energy that he expends.

Overall, this is the kind of movie that makes you feel bad for actors, because theoretically Race to Witch Mountain could be a blockbuster, and of course who would be crazy enough to say no to an almost assured box-office smash? It's just awful, though, and no person should have to endure it, whether they're genuinely trying to play different kinds of characters, just picking up a paycheck, or (especially) if they're paying money to potentially be entertained.

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