In some ways, Race to Witch Mountain feels displaced in time. At its core, Mountain feels like it should hail from the early 1990s, when a batch of vintage kids-in-space adventure films like Flight of the Navigator, The Explorers, and The Last Starfighter put young people and flying saucers together in ways that reinforced deep childhood fantasies. These films were known for rocketing kids across the universe at an age when just driving the family car seemed impossibly far away. Of course, Witch Mountain is really just the latest in a series of sequels and remakes dating back to the 1975 film Escape to Witch Mountain (starring Eddie Albert and Kim Richards); a franchise Disney seems loath to put away, though I never quite understood why.
This updated version opens with a fairly spectacular montage of radio noise, plot points, and stock footage, not unlike the first moments of Watchmen. From NASA kitsch it settles onto Dwayne (the Rock) Johnson as Jack Bruno, a cab driver working in a sci-fi-convention-invaded Las Vegas. Bruno quickly meets cute brainiac Carla Gugino and then two mystery kids who turn out to live somewhere left of the Crab Nebula. After that, Witch Mountain alternates between swift chases and, unfortunately, awkward attempts at snappy banter. You’d think Johnson would be good with kids, or at the very least sizzle with Gugino, but together they’re like a royal couple of B-moviedom. There isn’t much charisma anywhere here, unless sparked by the young AnnaSophia Robb. Even Gugino, who can play soccer mom or stripper equally well, seems washed-out here and underutilized. But the weirdest lack of jolt comes from the evil U.S. government agents, who amazingly don’t seem quite credible. Maybe it’s because the Bush era’s ended, but cops who routinely deny the rights of undocumented aliens seem weirdly archaic.
The chase scenes are great and the idea that a brother and sister can cross galaxies to run errands for their parents gives you heart. That these tween siblings do so without fighting with each other is what most adults would recognize as otherworldly.