For many Gen Xer's, the words "Witch Mountain" evoke dim but fond memories of sci-fi Saturday matinees, some sort of chintzy Disney magic about a pair of wispy psychic kids on the run with the dude from Green Acres, though damn if I can recall the specifics. This snappy, new, 21st century spit-shine of the '70s movies and the '60s book that inspired them, fittingly cranks up the effects, action and excitement so much that this time it's even easier to forget the specifics.
As disposable and formulaic as this new Witch Mountain is, it's a pleasant time-waster, with just enough eye candy and knowing winks to wrap kids and nostalgic parents up in a fuzzy pop culture bubble for 90-odd minutes.
Dwayne Johnson (no more "Rock," please) has had spotty success as a major action star, but when it comes to family fare, dude is money. He's perfectly suited to the role of cynical ex-mob man Jack Bruno — who warms up as the kids' protector — and we can thank our lucky stars that it wasn't Vin Diesel, as the five people who saw Babylon A.D. will surely attest. Johnson is nicely re-teamed with his Game Plan director Andy Fickman — who, by the way, won't be confused with Steven Spielberg but knows enough to hit the throttle early and not let off.
And Jack is a grumpy tough guy with no time to listen to any guff about crashed saucers and stranded aliens until the blond waifs in the back of his cab begin walking through walls and reading minds and other cool stunts. Even though they're pint-sized X-Men, twins Sara and Seth need help getting back home, because, after all, they're kids new in town, and, hey, Vegas can get pretty rough after dark, especially downtown. With the mob, an alien baddie and black helicopters full of government agents hot on their heels, reluctant guardian Jack enlists the aid of an astrophysicist lecturer (Carla Gugino) he dropped off at the UFO convention, because she's smart and smoking-hot.
Ciarán Hinds fumes and scowls as the lead fed, and Tom Everett Scott gets the "Remember Him?" award for a once-promising career.
Race to Witch Mountain is mostly a blur, all screeching tires and twinkly effects, but with occasional doses of wit, even if the script too often dips into the geek-joke well. The movie nicely underplays redemptive powers of family themes, and, while it lacks some of the original's emotional resonance, it never gets sappy, a minor miracle for a modern product from the House of Mouse.
Corey Hall writes about film for Metro Times. Send comments to [email protected].