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Jacqueline Monahan's Movie Reviews

Race to Witch Mountain

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Las Vegas Round The Clock - http://www.lasvegasroundtheclock.com
Jacqueline Monahan is an English tutor for the GEAR UP program at UNLV.
She is also a consultant for Columbia College Chicago in Adjunct Faculty Affairs
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Review

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Race to Witch Mountain

Alien siblings requiring human assistance are nothing new.  They’ve been here a few times before, but not like this.

In its third offering in the franchise, (not a sequel, a reimagining, if you will)  Witch Mountain is a scaled-down version of Devils Tower – no apostrophe – the iconic natural formation featured in Close Encounters of the Third Kind, and not by accident.  The film is big on the alien (read high-tech) possibilities of the storyline and all of the CGI-based effects that go with it.

Interplanetary visitors Seth, (Alexander Ludwig) and his sister, Sarah (AnnaSophia Robb) possess super powers (altering molecular structures, reading minds, levitation and telekinesis)  but are unable to shake the relentless government henchmen headed by Henry Burke (Ciarán Hinds) that seek to contain them.  Their ship has been confiscated and secured by the FBI/Department of Defense/government suits – your choice - at a top-secret site whose name is in the title.  The two must retrieve the ship and a gadget that will save their dying planet.  An extra-terrestrial, Predator-like bounty hunter is also after the two.

There’s nothing for the pair to do but seek out Las Vegas cabbie and ex-con Jack Bruno (Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson), a former driver for the mob, now gone straight.  There’s nothing he’d rather do less.  The trio encounter Burke and his government goons shortly thereafter in a small town restaurant.  The scene features appearances by the original 1975 Escape to Witch Mountain “kids” Kim Richards and Ike Eisenmann as a helpful waitress and local sheriff, respectively.

Bruno eventually finds some devotion for his two charges, and aided by a discredited astrophysicist, Dr. Alex Friedman (Carla Gugino) assists them in staying one step ahead of their pursuers.  Amid flames, explosions, a fist fight and several close calls, the siblings are pursued, captured, rescued and pursued again.

The Las Vegas location prominently features Planet Hollywood as a science fiction convention site, convenient for the Predator-like bounty hunter to make a menacing appearance, reminding everyone that he’s in the mix, too, and not just included for more special effects.  Um, yeah.

There are cameos by “Communion” author/alien abduction survivor Whitley Strieber (as himself) and Meredith Salenger, as "Natalie Gann," a television reporter (a nod to Disney’s The Journey of Nattie Gann).   Entertainer Danny Gans has a walk-through, and Cheech Marin has a tiny role as a garage mechanic.

The movie’s pace proceeds at warp speed, made for those with video game reflexes and attention spans.  Boredom is kept effectively at bay, but so is logic and character development.  The inevitable relationship between Jack Bruno and Dr. Friedman is forced and false, predictable and cliché-ridden.
Dwayne Johnson’s presence is that of a human cartoon, almost too chiseled and striking for the camera to capture in mundane surroundings.  Playing the frustrated, clueless, smartass works well for him but unfortunately he can’t be expected to carry the film all by himself, halogen-bright smile notwithstanding.

Carla Gugino, usually a welcome presence in any production, is wasted here.  Reduced to one-liners and superfluous astro-babble, her character’s ultra-perky manner detracts from any alleged scientific credibility.

AnnaSophia Robb and Alexander Ludwig are blonde and pale with large eyes and serious demeanors.  What is supposed to be alien comes off as merely Scandinavian, but the two are likeable enough.

Ciarán Hinds is a one-note villain and general wrench in the machinery as a single-minded government operative.

Director Andy Fickman (The Game Plan) ramps up the action for the third visit to Witch Mountain, loosely based on the Alexander Key book, Escape to Witch Mountain.  After the original 1975 film of the same name, a 1978 follow-up, Return to Witch Mountain was released.  Neither had the flash and flames of this latest effort, but retained a quiet charm that its newer incarnation lacks.

The film may resonate with younger audiences for whom it was constructed.  It’s a wild ride, being a race after all.  It just would have been nice to have known the participants a little better.