Saturday, March 14, 2009

Review: Race to Witch Mountain (***)

Directed by Andy Fickman
Cast: Dwayne Johnson, AnnaSophia Robb, Carla Gugino, Alexander Ludwig, Tom Everett Scott, Ciaran Hinds, Billy Brown, Christopher Marquette, Cheech Marin, Garry Marshall, Iake Eisenmann, Kim Richards, Meredith Salenger, Tom Woodruff Jr., Christine Lakin.
2008--99 minutes
Rated PG (violence, frightening situations, thematic elements)

Like his 2006 gender-crossing Amanda Bynes-starrer "She's the Man," Andy Fickman's "Race to Witch Mountain" is undeniable fun. Oddly enough it is a much better sci-fi adventure than December's "The Day the Earth Stood Still." Perhaps that says more about that clunky bore of an alien invasion pic than it does about this film, but there you have it. Whereas "The Day the Earth Stood Still" walked and talked like a serious movie but ended up being much sillier than anticipated, "Race to Witch Mountain" knows what it is and embraces its silliness. This doesn't always work, and in fact it is quite uneven in its aspirations and subsequent execution, but hey, who says you can't have fun with trifles. That is as it was with "She's the Man" and it is such here.

Jack Bruno is a down-on-his-luck cabbie in Sin City. Being an ex-con and former auto racer, Jack has seen his share of weird things, but a UFO convention being held in Vegas does it. Jack just cannot believe in something that seems so, well, unbelievable. That is, until he meets Seth and Sara, two 14-year-old kids with some amazing diction and almost emotionless faces. They claim to be from another planet, but naturally Jack thinks that is just baloney. His feelings about this do not stay true for long, as shortly after the kids are involved in a duel with a seemingly indestructible robot. On their tail (and unbeknownst to them) are a group of FBI agents involved in possibly the greatest cover-up in human history.

"Race to Witch Mountain" is pure silliness, to be sure, but there is a sense of zeal that was missing in "The Day the Earth Stood Still," which has a surprisingly similar plot. That film was a chore to sit through and, while both share practically the same length, moved at a much slower pace than this. The action scenes put those in the earlier film to shame, as the special effects are not so glaringly obvious, and the pacing is much zippier. This film is also not as thematically confused as the earlier film; there is no environmental or political agenda here, instead just one entertaining scene after another.

The performances are fitting for the material at hand, with two exceptions. At the forefront of the picture is an unusually terrific Dwayne Johnson. He's possibly never been better, even as his dramatic bits are a tad forced. His comedic timing, specifically, is right on the ball, as Jack Bruno becomes as likeable a character as he's ever played. AnnaSophia Robb is always good in her roles, whether they be in affecting fluff like "Because of Winn-Dixie" or 2007's masterpiece "Bridge to Terabithia." She has a way of commanding her scenes with an unforced, wide-eyed sense of naturalism. That is no different in the role of Sara. Ciaran Hinds is fittingly sniveling as the FBI agent in charge and the major villain of the film. Not as impressive are Carla Gugino, as Alex, a doctor who believes in only science, and Alexander Ludwig as Seth. Gugino was much more impressive in a particularly smaller role in last week's "Watchmen;" here, she annoys and is obviously so bored that she gives the role everything she's got. Sadly, it doesn't work in the slightest. Ludwig, such a robot in "The Seeker: The Dark is Rising," is just as bad here; his work as Seth is some of the most monotone acting I've ever seen. He emotes not once.

The plot is not airtight and plotholes abound, but "Race to Witch Mountain" is sure to leave a smile on your face. This also happened in the aforementioned "She's the Man," an equally uneven comedy that worked only because Amanda Bynes was so wild and untamed that her performance became the sole reason for the movie's terrifically high comedic value. Everything else seemed to pale in comparison to Bynes' sheer presence. Likewise, the Bynes factor in "Race to Witch Mountain" is the near-atmospheric sense of joy.

When compared to other Disney-produced live-action flicks of the last four years, the rundown looks something like this. "Race to Witch Mountain" is not as unabashedly fun or clever as "Sky High" (far and away the best of the group) or "Enchanted," just about equals December's "Bedtime Stories," and is veritably the Second Coming compared to "Zoom." With comparisons like that, it's easy to see why the movie has been released for the children in the audience. But what is invaluable to the film's success, as reserved as it is, is that adults might dig it as well.

1 comment:

Actionman said...

It looks/sounds like a cute kid-pic. I will check it out on DVD for sure. I like anything with crashing UFOs.