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Technically, this is actually the 5th film in the series as there were two TV films released before this: Beyond Witch Mountain in 1982 and a remake of Escape to Witch Mountain in 1995. But since my blog is only devoted to the theatrical releases, I only have to review the 2009 film, Race to Witch Mountain.
So, the question arises: Since these Witch Mountain films are somewhat of a success or at least relatively famous, can rebooting the franchise/remaking the film and updating it for a modern audience work? Let’s find out.
And remember, SPOILERS AHEAD!
As the movie opens to a well put-together montage of extraterrestrial “evidence” (UFO photos, sound clips of people testifying to being abducted, etc.), we are soon introduced to the character of Jack Bruno, played by Dwayne Johnson.
Jack is a taxi driver in Las Vegas who has some shadiness in his past as well as a general distaste…or annoyance with people. That is, more so an annoyance with the sci-fi nerds who are in town for a sci-fi convention. You see, Jack doesn’t believe in aliens. Hence, having to drive these people to the convention just makes it all the more annoying for him.
One of his passengers is actually a Dr. Alex Friedman, played by Carla Gugino, an astrophysicist who is set to speak at the convention to discuss the scientific possibility (or proof) of the existence of extraterrestrial life.
Meanwhile, a government agency led by Henry Burke, played by Ciarán Hinds, investigates what appears to be a UFO that has crashed nearby. They come to believe that two of the extraterrestrials aboard have run away and it’s up to Burke and his men to track them down.
It’s not long before the extraterrestrials make their appearance. They actually come into contact with Jack and seek his services to drive them to a particular destination. The extraterrestrials, Seth and Sara, are humanoids and are played by Alexander Ludwig and AnnaSophia Robb, respectively. Since they look like regular human kids and don’t admit that they’re aliens, Jack, at first, isn’t too worried about anything. But when he realizes that their destination is pretty much in the middle of nowhere and they have a huge wad of money (they extracted all the money from a nearby ATM) to pay with, his suspicions are somewhat aroused.
Nevertheless, he does his duty and heads out to where the kids want to go. On the way, though, Burke and his men (who have discovered that the extraterrestrials are with Jack) in three heavily armored vehicles try to desist Jack on the road. Jack assumes that these are his old shady friends who want him to go back on the wrong path and tries to leave them. This leads to a pretty well-done car chase/action sequence resulting in a lot of external damage to Jack’s taxicab as well as heightened emotions all around.
They finally reach their destination which turns out to be an abandoned, broken down house. Still feeling uneasy, Jack goes in after the kids and finds that they’re hooking up a strange device to a refrigerator. The fridge then opens up leading to a secret passageway. Seth and Sara tell Jack that his life is in danger if he’s with them, but that doesn’t deter Jack who just wants to get some answers to some questions.
They follow the secret passage which leads to a sort of forested area. The kids then find another weird device which apparently is what they were in search of in the first place. But, they’re not the only ones after it. Suddenly, another extraterrestrial that looks like a Terminator-like assassin robot appears and starts shooting at them.
This leads to another fight/action scene resulting in shooting, Jack escaping with the kids in his taxicab, the house blowing up, and the trio being chased and shot at by what seems to be a flying saucer.
Once they manage to get away from the flying saucer, Jack demands that the kids give him an explanation as to what the heck all that was. Seeing that they can no longer keep it a secret from him, the kids tell Jack that they’re aliens. Jack, of course, doesn’t believe it, but after witnessing some of their powers like telepathy, moving objects with their mind, and molecular density manipulation, he finds it easier to believe them.
The robotic assassin and flying saucer that were shooting at them were after the kids (I forget the reason why, if any reason was given). Now, the kids have to get back to their flying saucer (which Burke and his men have since confiscated and taken somewhere) to return to their planet and save Earth from…destruction, I guess. This part isn’t really explained all that well.
They briefly stop in a town called Stony Creek to get the battered taxicab fixed and spend some time in a restaurant where they bump into Ike Eisenmann and Kim Richards who played Tony and Tia in the original films.
But, Burke and his men are still on their trail and arrive at the restaurant. Fortunately, Jack and the kids slip away before they can get caught. They head back out in their somewhat fixed taxicab and Jack decides to get Dr. Alex Friedman to help him out with these kids.
They find Dr. Friedman at the convention and after explaining the situation to her, she, of course, thinks that Jack is just insulting her intelligence. But, she too soon witnesses the kids’ powers and becomes a believer.
She then enlists the help of a UFOlogist-type colleague, Harlan, played by Garry Marshall, to see if he knows where the kids’ flying saucer can be. He says that there’s only one place where Burke and his men could have taken it: a secret governmental area near Witch Mountain.
Jack, Dr. Friedman, and the kids head there and despite some hiccups, manage to break into the heavily-guarded governmental area.
The kids are able to get the spacecraft working and escape before Burke and the other aliens who’ve come after them can stop them. The kids then thank Jack and Dr. Friedman for all they’ve done and give them a device through which they can contact them if they ever need to.
And that was Race to Witch Mountain. So, does the film work as an updated modern version? Well, somewhat. Watching the film itself wasn’t really a chore and had some level of interest to it, but it’s still not a good film.
The story, as I’ve pointed out, has a lot of holes in it (I mean, where the heck was the race to Witch Mountain?) and just isn’t that enthralling to begin with. The acting is pretty much decent, but Carla Gugino just sounds like someone who’s just memorized her scientific mumbo-jumbo lines and doesn’t do a good job of making them sound authentic.
The effects are pretty good though, as all the films in this franchise have been.
All in all, it is not a good film, but I can’t call it worst of the worst either. It is what it is.
(You can click on the image below for an enlarged version of my rating sheet.)
So, the final score for this film is 24/35 = 68.57% (D+) !
The next review will be posted on August 3rd.