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‘Witch Mountain’ serves as solid fun

POSTED: March 11, 2009 10:00 p.m.
/Disney

AnnaSophia Robb, Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson and Alexander Ludwig star in the Disney sci-fi, tween-friendly film "Race to Witch Mountain."

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Remember when you were a kid and you'd imagine having special powers, like being able to move things with your mind? Or you'd pretend you were an alien coming to Earth as part of a mission to save the universe?

Whether you used to or still do imagine such things, "Race to Witch Mountain" is a nice way to indulge those fantasies for a while.

This is Disney's remake of "Escape to Witch Mountain," with all the campy dialogue of the original but with updated action, effects and story.

A UFO crashes outside Las Vegas one night, which sends government spook Henry Burke (Ciaran Hinds) and his agents on a search for the beings that flew the craft to our planet. The next morning, Vegas cabbie Jack Bruno (Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson) picks up an unusual fare: teenage siblings Sara (AnnaSophia Robb) and Seth (Alexander Ludwig), who tote a wad full of cash and ask to be taken to a remote house in the desert.

Jack quickly figures out these are no ordinary teenagers and he has gotten much more than he bargained for. Jack, Sara and Seth are soon being chased by not only Burke's secretive government agency but also a really nasty, seemingly indestructible alien.

Lucky for Jack that he recently met Dr. Alex Friedman (Carla Gugino), an astrophysicist and expert on extraterrestrials - not to mention a total babe.

Jack and Alex team up to save the kids, since the fate of Earth depends on Sara and Seth getting back home safely.

"Witch Mountain" is a sci-fi action movie cleaned up just enough to make it suitable for preteens. The violence is intense for the PG rating. The kids are shot at by scores of humans and one alien, and they are in peril for most of the movie. Despite all this near-carnage, though, the filmmakers are careful not to actually show anyone being killed, not even anonymous government henchmen. Nor does the movie include any profanity.

So the movie has a very specific target audience: tweens and teens and their parents. Both boys and girls have a character to identify with, and mom and dad each get some eye candy. And the whole family gets a healthy dose of escapism.

No one will ever mistake Johnson (having to force myself not to refer to him as The Rock) for a great actor, but this is exactly the sort of role at which he excels. He doesn't have to do much heavy acting, but he gets to be his charming self while kicking large quantities of butt.

Nor does the much more talented Gugino strain her acting muscles. The kids do most of the emoting, and Robb again shows the promise she has demonstrated before ("Charlie and the Chocolate Factory").

Kim Richards and Ike Eisenmann, stars of the original Witch Mountain movies, also make cameos, and we get nice bit roles by Cheech Marin and Garry Marshall.

All signs point toward Disney reviving this franchise (along with all their old franchises, it seems). Given the lack of decent movies for tweens and teens, I'm ready to call that a good thing.

There's nothing at all original or surprising about "Race to Witch Mountain," but it does accomplish its one and only goal. It entertains.

Jeff Marker is a media studies professor at Gainesville State College.



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