It’s a slow and arduous trip from Fairmont to Lumberton. There is the inevitable slow pickup truck dragging down N.C. 41 like a wounded snail, the umpteen stoplights that have all turned red just for me and my eager brood, and, of course, a train. All the while there are chants of popcorn and coke (a special movie-time treat) and candy, accompanied by the prototypical “we’re going to the movies” song a cappella from the back seat.
We make it. The previews begin to roll and I explain to the girls what the movie “Race to Witch Mountain” will be about. A girl named Sara (AnnaSophia Robb) and her brother Seth (Alexander Ludwig) are actually aliens from another planet. Their spaceship has crashed in the Nevada desert, and in addition to escaping detection by government investigators, they are trying to retrieve valuable information that will save their dying planet. If they fail, their alien-kind will invade Earth in search of a new home.
Jack Bruno (Dwayne Johnson, in another Disney attempt to lose his wrestler name “The Rock”) is a buffed-up taxi driver in Las Vegas, trying to turn his life around and be a law-abiding citizen for once. He is also Sara and Seth’s only chance. They appear suddenly in his back seat and ask to be taken to an undisclosed location in the desert. Jack at first refuses, citing that he doesn’t need any trouble, until the kids hand him a fat wad of cash.
Sounds tame so far, right kids? Um. Well. Unbeknownst to me, there is also a unstoppable cyborg killing machine that wants Sara, Seth and Jack Bruno dead. He blows things up with his transformer-like fingertips and laser beams. There is also a government official (Ciaran Hinds) who’ll stop at nothing to capture the alien siblings for scientifically experimental purposes. Cars get chased and crash and explode, guns go a-blazin’, and tranquilizer darts pop a few in the neck. This film should have been called “Chase to Witch Mountain.”
Now I’ll be the first to admit that my children are not the bravest of hearts. If it isn’t pink with sparkles and sequins, or if it isn’t a princess flitting about castles atop majestic unicorns, or if it isn’t a golden, fuzzy puppy playing basketball, it isn’t on the top of their list of must sees. But this was supposed to be adventuresome. Magic. Exciting. I thought they needed a little of that.
But alas, my parental intention of exposing them to new things was a waste of my money. The 8-year-old had her knees to her chest and her head in my armpit (poor thing) for nearly the entire movie. The almost 4-year-old moved to my lap and buried her face in my neck. “Is it almost over?” I was asked many times. Dear Lord, I hope so.
Disney hired director Andy Fickman to remake the 1975 “Escape to Witch Mountain.” While he did a nice job, it wasn’t the wholesome adventure that I remember watching as a child. There could have been more alien magic. Audiences learn that Sara is telepathic and can move objects with her mind, and that Seth can transform his body mass to penetrate doors and walls and such, but only in a couple of instances. I would have liked to have seen lots more magic and much less violence.
While the alien kid actors (Robb and Ludwig) were sufficient in their roles, their intentionally robotic facial expressions rendered them less than endearing to viewers, and the connection between kids and their big-screen characters was as distant and cold as their dying planet. Johnson has proven that he can deliver comedic lines, but he still needs to conquer the drama portion of facial theatrics.
Whatever you do, look away during the last scene while Johnson is watching in awe as the spaceship takes off. It’ll make you want your money back.
Bottom line: If your child is too small to keep the spring-loaded theater seat from popping up uncontrollably, that child is too young for this movie. If your child is squeamish when you step on a spider/ant/bug of any sort and injure it (ahem) — not ready. If your child is under the age of 10, consider with care taking him or her to see this film. It’s scary, violent, and inappropriate for the more gentle souls of young children.
Rated PG for sequences of action and violence, frightening and dangerous situations, and some thematic elements. Running at 98 minutes, “Race to Witch Mountain” gets 3 bags of popcorn.