Uh-uh, I am so not falling for whatever happened the last time that I encountered Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson on the celluloid screen. Yes, it was good for me and, presumably, for him as well, but The Rock is one hell of a deadbeat cinematic impregnator. Of course, I do realize that Johnson now prefers to be known by his “real” name, but, after a certain tenure of playing dress-up in spandex briefs, rolling around with other half-dressed men, and referring to himself from a third-person perspective as “The Rock,” well, he fucking owns that nickname for all of eternity. Also, if I can somehow keep him from making yet another late night booty call, then my stubbornness serves its purpose all too well.
In the meantime, for those adults who attend Race to Witch Mountain out of some romantic notion that Disney will honor your nostalgia by lovingly treating the progeny of a few of your beloved childhood movies, well, you should know better than that. Screenwriters Matt Lopez and Mark Bomback have very loosely based this film upon a few ideas from the old films and that novel by Alexander Key. Consequently, Race to Witch Mountain has very little to do with Escape to Witch Mountain (1975) and its sequel, Return from Witch Mountain (1978). Essentially, the filmmakers have taken the title of the book, along with a general concept or two, and reconfigured the whole schbang under the guise of a contemporary “re-imagining” geared towards updating the franchise. These writers, along with director Andy Fickman, who gently guided The Rock in Disney’s The Game Plan, are so damn clever that they used the word “Race” to signify the film’s jam-packed action sequences. In addition, “Race” seems to justify the film’s notion of “illegal” aliens and numerous references to government surveillance under the Patriot Act. Outdated propaganda aside, Race only really honors its main function, that is, as the second installment in The Rock’s Disney trilogy. (Next up: Tooth Fairy)
At the beginning of Race to Witch Mountain, a UFO crashes somewhere in the desert surrounding Las Vegas. Some evil government agents, Henry Burke (Ciaran Hinds) and Matheson (Tom Everett Scott) among them, immediately jump into turbo gear and spend the film attempting to capture the UFO’s occupants for research purposes. Meanwhile, The Rock, as cab driver Jack Bruno, is only trying to keep his impeccably well-shaped nose clean and mind his own business, that is, by shuttling conspiracy theorists, fanboy Stormtroopers, and other such weirdos to and from a Las Vegas sci-fi convention. Bruno, who could probably do better than Vegas, is an ex-con who served time for running errands for the mob, but, as he insists more than once, all that is in the past. Well, Bruno only thinks he’s out, but, naturally, they’re trying to pull him back in.
Seriously? You’d better believe it.
So, after a heated argument with two such mob thugs, Bruno returns to his cab to find that two eerily well-mannered teenagers, Sara (AnnaSophia Robb) and Seth (Alexander Ludwig), have somehow materialized in the back seat. These teens—who look like Dresden Dolls (in the sense of V.C. Andrews’ Flowers In The Attic series, not the “Brechtian punk cabaret” musical act) and talk like Vicki the robot of “Small Wonder” fame—are in a hurry. They flash some cash, and Bruno’s lead foot hits the pedal. Oddly, Bruno doesn’t seem to mind risking his immanent return to prison even though these kids are carrying a shitload of money and are being pursued by all manner of law enforcement. Such pesky plot inconsistencies are no big deal, for, without such logical gaps, The Rock wouldn’t be in this film. Besides, these kids, who are shape-shifting, mind-reading, telekinetic aliens, don’t really even need Bruno’s help to get to their titular destination. You see, Sara and Seth have travelled to Earth to find something necessary for their planet’s survival. If their mission fails, Earth will be destroyed, and, to further complicate matters, the bounty-hunting Siphon, a pathetic attempt at a Terminator-styled robot, has followed the alien teens to our lovely planet. So, it’s basically up to skeptical
Bruno The Rock to save the world from what would otherwise be certain obliteration. This is, arguably, a much more ambitious project than The Game Plan, but Race to Witch Mountain carries far less charm than its predecessor. Instead, this sci-fi action flick is barely passable for killing some popcorn but panders mostly towards the no-attention span generation.
With Race to Witch Mountain, The Rock continues his practice of surpassing the project at hand while simultaneously flexing his notorious smile, muscles, and sweat glands. The supporting cast, functional but drowned out by the nonstop action, includes the obligatory love interest, Dr. Alex Friedman, an astrophysicist and “ufologist” played by Carla Gugino, the overexposed negative of the year. Cheech Marin also briefly shows up as an auto mechanic that pulls back the stage curtains to furtively glance around the set for his paycheck. In addition, some thankless cameo appearances are made by Kim Richards and Iake Eissinmann, the kids from the original films. Essentially, this film is just what we expect from The Rock, whose smile will only go so far and will, eventually, either seal his doom or send him back to the action genre. Actually, he’s already halfway there, for Race to Witch Mountain features The Rock kicking some major ass for a good portion of this film. The violence quota here is a bit much for a PG-rated flick, and multiple deaths occur throughout the film. Still, as long as everyone uses contraception, audiences shouldn’t experience any long-lasting effects, that is, any memories that outlast the walk to the multiplex parking lot.
Agent Bedhead lives in Tulsa, Oklahoma and can be found at agentbedhead.com.