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"Witch Mountain" is formulaic, predictable

March 17, 2009|By BOB GAVER

"Race to Witch Mountain"

What is it with movie aliens these days? The ones who speak English always speak really sophisticated English. They've mastered a language that's completely new to them, but they don't understand that we want them to say "Drive the car fast" instead of "Maximize the velocity of the transportation unit." They're starting out at the wrong end of the spectrum. I miss the good old days of "E.T. Phone Home."

Alexander Ludwig and AnnaSophia Robb play sophisticated aliens in "Race to Witch Mountain." The complicated dialogue would sound strange coming from an adult, but even stranger coming from kids, since the young actors might not understand their own words. They're teenagers, so they probably do, but it still sounds stiff.

Fortunately, "Race to Witch Mountain" isn't really about the aliens, it's about the human who takes care of them. Jack Bruno (Dwayne "Don't Call Me 'The Rock'" Johnson) is a down-on-his-luck Las Vegas cab driver. A UFO/sci-fi convention is in town, and he's getting all sorts of annoying fares. Then Seth (Ludwig) and Sara (Robb) show up in the back of his cab and order him to take them to the middle of nowhere. They have cash, so he agrees.

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Of course, Seth and Sara are aliens. They have information vital to the survival of their race, so naturally an alien assassin is after them. Our government also wants them for reasons that are never made clear, but are apparently more important than establishing good will with another planet. One good thing about the movie is that the bad guys always get cool theme music whenever they show up. It's not as memorable as, say, Darth Vader's or Jaws's iconic theme music, but the concept of Villain Music isn't appreciated nearly enough these days.

With a title like "Race to Witch Mountain", it's no surprise that most of the movie is basically a chase scene as Jack tries to get the aliens back to their impounded ship. Along the way, they get help from a serious scientist that nobody takes seriously (Carla Gugino), a quack "scientist" that everybody takes seriously (Garry Marshall), a waitress (Kim Richards, of 1975's "Escape to Witch Mountain"), a small town sheriff (Ike Eisenmann, also of "Escape to Witch Mountain") and a dog. Yes, it turns out the kids can talk to dogs.

Kids may find the movie interesting, but adults will probably find it too predictable. Adults will probably have to go to see this movie with their kids, so I recommend passing the time by playing Popcorn Games:

Eat a piece of popcorn every time someone addresses Jack as "Jack Bruno". The movie apparently wants us to memorize the full name. They're probably proud of themselves for thinking of a name so close to "Jack Bauer" without violating any copyrights.

  • Eat a piece every time there's an inconsistency in the kids' alien powers. Example: they can make CDs levitate in Jack's cab, but they can't take guns out of the bad guys' hands later. Don't even get me started on locked doors.

  • Eat most of a piece every time someone mentions Jack's history with organized crime. That storyline is never brought to a conclusion.

  • Eat a piece every time Seth and Sara attempt to explain their own backstory. They have travelled to Earth because their own planet is almost out of resources. Hooray for Earth! Apparently we're the lesser of two evils.

    Aside from a neat little montage of alien news coverage at the beginning, "Race to Witch Mountain" is pretty much a generic family adventure movie. Johnson's usually strong presence is almost undetectable, hidden behind dull straight lines. A lot of aspects of the ending suggest that the studio is planning a sequel.

    I sure hope that's not the case. By the time it gets made, the kids won't even be cute anymore. But at least their characters might know how to sound normal by then.

    Contact Bob Garver at rrg251@nyu.edu.

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