tek's rating:

Race to Witch Mountain (PG)
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Caution: spoilers.

This movie came out in 2009, but I didn't see it until 2014. Wikipedia calls it a "continuation" of the 1975 film Escape to Witch Mountain, but personally I don't see that it's really possible (or at least not likely) for the two movies to be part of the same continuity. It's also been called a "reimagining," which I would say is closer to the truth, but really, the two movies have only the most cursory of similarities. (There have been a few other movies, either sequels or remakes, in the Witch Mountain franchise, though the only one I'm sure I've seen is Return from Witch Mountain.) I do want to mention that I was considering putting this review in my family category rather than science fiction, because it's definitely a family film, like the original (the review of which is in my family section). But... well, this film is definitely more modern, in terms of plot and especially in terms of special effects. It's also more obviously sci-fi, whereas in the original, that aspect didn't become fully apparent until near the end (though throughout the film there were some paranormal elements to the story). Anyway, I also want to say that from the very beginning of this film, it's pretty clear it was made in a post-X-Files world. (And later in the film, one line reminds me that it was also made in a post-9/11 world.) Anyway, I found the movie enjoyable enough to watch once, though I wouldn't make any predictions as to whether I'll ever feel like watching it again. (It struck me as a quasi-campy movie that can't quite decide whether or not to take itself seriously. But it's better if you don't.)

I also want to mention the cast. It includes Dwayne Johnson, who I would say provides the best performance in the film, which is perhaps a bit surprising. (Though it may say more about the quality of the writing than of anyone's acting.) It also includes AnnaSophia Robb, whom I had seen in a few other movies. She was alright here, but... eh, the writing. And there's Carla Gugino, whose work I have enjoyed in other things (more than I did in this). Chris Marquette (whose work I enjoyed on Joan of Arcadia) was in it. And... there were other characters played by actors I should know, and probably have seen in other things, but just don't remember them well enough to recognize them. But there were some decent cameos, including the actors who played Tia and Tony in the original movie, though I didn't recognize them, and only know it was them because the internet told me. Cheech Marin had a small role. Garry Marshall has a small but fun role. At one point there was a reporter named Natalie Gann, and I was all "You mean like Natty Gann?" and indeed, she was played by Meredith Salenger, who had starred in The Journey of Natty Gann. That seemed pretty random, but I liked it nevertheless. (And seeing as the original Witch Mountain movie had references to earlier random Disney films, I suppose it's appropriate that this one would, too.) And there was one guy who seemed really familiar, but I couldn't think where I knew him from. Checking the extended cast list on IMDb eventually revealed it was Jonathan Slavin, whom I knew from Better Off Ted. Other cameos may have been of interest to some people, but I'm unfamiliar with any of them.

Early in the movie there's a little bit of a song that I don't recall having heard before, but I thought it was catchy, so I checked Amazon for the soundtrack. It seems to only be available in mp3 format, at this point. And it doesn't include the song in question. (It's mostly scoring, which is decent, but there are also a few songs that I really don't remember/didn't notice in the movie.) The song I did notice turns out to be "Fly on the Wall" by Miley Cyrus, which is available on one of her CDs or as an mp3. I watched the video for it on YouTube, to decide if I want to bother buying the song, and... maybe I will. What I liked most about it was the chorus, which has a synth-y new wave feel that kinda put me in mind of The B-52's (and googling "b-52s fly on the wall" shows me I'm not the first person to think that). So that part was pretty cool, but the rest of the song... was okay. *shrug*

Anyway, I should talk about the plot. So, this alien ship crashes somewhere outside Las Vegas, and the government tracks it. The team that is sent to recover the ship is led by a guy named Henry Burke (Ciarán Hinds, an actor I should know but kind of don't). There are maybe a couple of people who work closely with him (in addition to the many nameless scientists and soldiers), but the only one that I found remotely noticeable was Pope (Marquette). (But I felt like Pope was so underused, there wasn't really a point in his being in the movie at all. It felt like he was intended to be more important to the plot than he was, because I've seen plenty of things with similar characters who end up doing important stuff to advance the plot, but in this movie, he doesn't really do anything. It seemed like he would have liked to stand up to Burke, but he never did.) Anyway, Burke's people take the spaceship to their secret facility, which we later learn is beneath Witch Mountain (which isn't on any official maps). So, um, that right there is a pretty big difference from the original movie. I suppose it's a vaguely interesting twist, but it's probably the biggest thing that makes me feel like the movie couldn't be related to the other ones. (On the other hand, I suppose it's possible the government built the facility there specifically because they somehow learned that aliens had once used it as a hiding place, or whatever.)

Meanwhile, there's a cabbie in Las Vegas named Jack Bruno (Johnson), who at one point gives a ride to a woman named Dr. Alex Friedman (Gugino), who is giving a lecture at a UFO convention. Jack is a die-hard skeptic about UFOs, so he's kind of annoyed by all the "nutjobs" who are true believers. Alex is also upset that people like that make it impossible for people like Jack to take her work seriously, and of course, he does basically lump her in with them. Later, we learn that Jack has a criminal past, but he's been trying to escape it by going straight as a cab driver. His old boss, however, doesn't want to let him go, so a couple of thugs show up occasionally to try to force him back into the fold, but that subplot doesn't really go anywhere, and feels kind of tacked on. (Well, okay, the fact that he has this past does play into the plot a little, but it would have been just as effective without the thugs being in the movie at all.) Anyway, right after we first learn about that, two young teenagers appear in his cab (almost as if by magic, but more likely because he was distracted by the thugs). They are siblings, Sara (Robb) and Seth (Alexander Ludwig, another actor I should know, but don't recognize). They talk kind of strangely, and Jack finds them suspicious, but they have a lot of cash, so he agrees to take them where they want to go (in spite of their not knowing an exact address). But Burke's team is also searching for them, knowing them to be the aliens from the ship that crashed.

Eventually Jack and the kids arrive at an old abandoned house in the middle of nowhere. The kids are using some device to seek an object, which is hidden in a weird jungle-like area beneath the house. They're followed by an alien assassin (called the Siphon) in a suit of armor that makes him pretty much indestructible. (He's also really strong, but I'm not sure how much of that is his own strength and how much might be the armor.) So there's a big, fiery battle and escape, after the kids find what they were looking for. And finally, Jack demands to know what's going on. And at first, he refuses to believe that the kids, or their pursuer, are aliens, because he doesn't believe in aliens. (It seems unfathomable that by this point he would still have any doubts, considering all he'd seen.) But Sara and Seth both have powers (she has telepathy and telekinesis, and he... can alter his molecules to either phase through matter or become impervious). Sara shows him a little trick that finally proves to him that they're aliens, though it's hard to believe this was really the first time he'd seen either of them use their powers. In any event, he decides to take them to meet Dr. Friedman at the UFO convention, believing she'd have some idea how to help them find their spaceship. She takes them to meet a conspiracy theorist named Dr. Donald Harlan (Marshall), who tells them about the secret facility at Witch Mountain. (Incidentally, his base of operations is a Winnebago, which I found to be a neat little call-back to the original movie.) So, Jack, Alex, and the kids all try to sneak into Witch Mountain. But the kids end up being captured by Burke's team, so Jack and Alex have to rescue them. And of course the Siphon is still chasing them.

Um... I should maybe explain the object that was so important to both the kids and the Siphon. But since it's never actually used in the movie, I won't. I'll just say that it's a really good thing that the kids got it, and that they'll get to bring it back to their homeworld. And, yes, they do finally retrieve their ship and leave Earth. The end. ...Except for some scenes during the closing credits that show us what becomes of Jack and Alex after the kids go home. Anyway, yeah, not a great movie, not a bad movie, but reasonably fun, if you don't take it too seriously.


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