“Race to Witch Mountain”
At Quality 16 and Showcase

Courtesy of Disney

1.5 out of 5 stars

Since when do aliens who can read minds, levitate objects and control their molecular density need to wear seat belts? And why do they even need to travel in a taxi in the first place? “Race to Witch Mountain” leaves the audience lost in many plot-wormholes like these. A remake of the lovable 1975 film “Escape to Witch Mountain,” “Race to Witch Mountain” is sadly shallow.

Jack Bruno (Dwayne Johnson, “Get Smart”) is a taxi driver in Las Vegas who is haunted by his corrupt past. For the first few minutes of the film, he’s chased by a mob boss, but this detail — like too many others — doesn’t end up being particularly relevant.

Bruno’s life changes forever when he finds Seth (Alexander Ludwig, “The Sandlot 3”) and Sara (AnnaSophia Robb, “Bridge to Terabithia”) in the back seat of his cab. These oddly robotic-sounding tweens turn out to be aliens who are trying to save their people while being hunted by a creepy U.S. government official bent on dragging them back to a lab somewhere and dissecting them. There also happens to be some sort of alien assassin trying to kill them, but that’s yet another sub-plot that doesn’t go anywhere. It’s up to Bruno and spacey-but-good-looking astrophysicist Dr. Alex Friedman (Carla Gugino, “The Unborn”) to save the day.

“Race to Witch Mountain” has pretty much the same plot as the 1975 movie, but it’s jam-packed with lame stunts and special effects. The original, though, was enjoyable precisely because it had such unrealistic effects. Reality is never a crucial element in a movie about aliens. No matter how realistic the car crashes and space ship take-offs are, “Race to Witch Mountain” was never going to be redeemed from its other shortcomings.

The whole film comes across as haphazard and thrown together in its final minute. Gugino’s character is obviously squeezed-in only to make a painful attempt at being Bruno’s love interest, and several characters appear once never to be explored again.

On top of these failings, the acting is terrible and the writing is beyond stale. At one point, Bruno says to Seth, “You know how to fly this thing, right?” in reference to the space ship, to which Seth responds, “How do you think we got here?” Bruno wittily retorts, “Well you crashed, remember?” OK, so maybe it could potentially be funny, but Dwayne Johnson displays absolutely no comedic talent. He comes across as the dad at his kid’s party who’s trying to be funny and cool, but just isn’t. It’s pretty painful at times. Also, Anna Sophia Robb doesn’t distinguish herself in her role as Sara, which is a shame considering the promise she showed in “Bridge to Terabithia.”

Of course, there isn’t much room for character development within the plot frame anyway. Most of the characters — from the suave and menacing government agent to the eccentric mad scientist — are flat and familiar. When it comes down to it, “Race to Witch Mountain” is just another live-action Disney movie that’s only slightly better than “The Shaggy Dog.”

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