Race to Witch Mountain [Blu-ray]

Dwayne Johnson continues his attempt to be a Disney family film star (after 2007’s The Game Plan) with Race to Witch Mountain. While Johnson isn’t the main problem, this “reimagining” of the 1975 kid-aliens-on-the-run movie, Escape to Witch Mountain, is pretty mediocre. Johnson needs to pick better vehicles or start on a different genre. Race to Witch Mountain is tough to dislike. It’s also tough to like. It just sits there in the middle of the road, not bad enough to dismiss and not good enough to recommend. After watching it in the theaters and again on Blu-ray, I usually just shrug my shoulders and say “yeah, it’s…..uh……you know…..fine” when asked about it. A bunch of pros doing everything by the book and coming out with serviceable product that won’t stand the test of time but might entertain the undemanding in your group of youngsters for an afternoon.

The plot of the movie differs so much from either the 1968 novel by Alexander Key or the 1975 Disney movie, both called Escape to Witch Mountain, that this is not so much a remake or a reimagining as it is a ripoff of the title and the basic plot point that there are two alien siblings on the run. Everything else is different. Vegas cab driver Jack Bruno (Johnson), a former driver for a crime boss now going straight, picks up teenagers Seth (Alexander Ludwig) and Sara (AnnaSophia Robb), who ask him to drive them out to a house in the middle of the desert. Of course, the kids have just crash landed in a flying saucer, so the cab is immediately chased by a government baddie (Ciran Hinds) who wants to do fiendish experiments on the kids and an extra-terrestrial assassin called Siphon who wants to stop their mission.

Unsure where to turn, Jack heads to a UFO Convention, conveniently being held in Vegas that very day, and hooks up with scientist Alex Friedman (Carla Gugino). Friedman uses her contacts in the UFO conspiracy nut community to find out where the kid’s spaceship has been taken. Without the ship, the kids can’t get back to their home planet and stop a potential invasion of Earth. Jeepers.

Johnson is pretty charming and snaps off moments of humor without much effort; however, there is just too much other crap weighing down the rest of the movie. Car chases, random shootouts, a relationship between Jack and Alex that lacks any real spark, it just doesn’t have any pop or life. Eight- to 12-year-old boys might get something out of all the screeching metal and fisticuffs, but to anyone else, it’s just a little too silly and predictable to be really enjoyable.

Blame for the blah aspects of this alien action ride lies with director Andy Fickman (who also helmed Johnson’s The Game Plan.) Fickman pulls out a paint-by-numbers set and puts the blue in the oval with the “2” and the red in the oval with the “3.” With help from a pedestrian script by Matt Lopez and Mark Bomback, he puts all the effort on Johnson’s character, to the detriment of Sara and Seth, the ostensible reason the movie exists. Fickman also has them speak like automatons, which makes them somewhat boring and unlikeable.

There is some funny stuff related to a trip to the floor of the UFO convention. Watching the kid’s powers in action is also something of a kick. Even here, though, the script lets Sara’s telekinesis help them out of some situations but not others. Nothing gets in the way of Jack kicking ass and kicking more ass, not even a chick that can move things with her mind.

It’s not a horrible movie. It just isn’t that good. It’s not even much of a science fiction movie, more like a buddy action comedy where the buddies happen to be a former felon cab driver and two alien kids. I consider it something of a public service to warn a person that just because you buy a three-disc set does not mean you get three discs' worth of unique material. I guess that’s become more and more obvious these days, but here is an example where the three-disc Blu-ray has very little in the way of extras. The Blu-ray contains all of the extras, with one separate disc containing a DVD version of the movie and another disc holding the digital copy. It’s always nice to have different versions of the film, especially the DVD copy to play in portable car players, for example.

The Blu-ray’s extras are almost shockingly limited. The item that gets the biggest type font on the box and is billed as an “Exclusive” to Blu-ray is called “Which Mountain? -- Discover Hidden References to the Original Movie.” This is something hosted by Andy Fickman, and while there are a few mentions of things in the new movie that hearken back to the 1975 original (like cameos of the original kids, Ike Eisenmann and Kim Richards,) more than half the things he mentions don’t have anything to do with the original movie at all. For example, the woman who played Natty Gann in The Journey of Natty Gann turns up here to play a reporter named Natalie Gann, or the head of the Disney Studios is a train engineer in one action sequence. It’s almost as if Fickman realized that there were very few “Easter eggs,” as he calls them, related to the old movie and they decide to puff it up with discussions of cameos of movie executives you’ve never heard of. I would have preferred if he explained why the kids in the original were called Tony and Tia but in this movie they are called Seth and Sara. It makes me wonder if the next reimagining will name them Randy and Reba.

There are nine deleted or extended scenes, lasting about 23 minutes. Fickman does an introduction to each scene and most of them relate to the time around the diner scene. There is also an extended ending where Jack and Alex meet up with the villain and a more direct link to a possible sequel is made. Since this film was not a big hit at the box office, that comes across as a little premature. The only other extra is a four-minute blooper reel. These things are almost always fun, and this one is no exception. Way to go filmmakers, your most entertaining effort in this project was your screw-ups! Well done!

This disc is product, pure and simple. Even if you are a fan of the original, you won’t get much nostalgia out of this, since the plots barely intersect. The action might keep the young folks interested, but it’s not going to be too exciting for you.