Tweens and their families are flocking to this Disney remake for good reason: it’s light-hearted, diverting entertainment. Plus there’s surprisingly weak competition at the multi-plex right now.
The adventure begins in the Nevada desert where a UFO has landed. The U.S. military scrambles and Burke (Ciaran Hinds), a Homeland Security agent, is determined to secure the “illegal aliens.” Meanwhile, in nearby Las Vegas, ex-con taxi-driver Jack Bruno (Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson) picks up Dr. Alex Friedman (Carla Gugino), an astrophysicist who’s in town lecturing at a UFO convention.
While Bruno dismisses those who believe in extraterrestrials as “nut jobs,” the next day, he happens upon siblings Sara (AnnaSophia Robb) and Seth (Alexander Ludwig), whose shape-shifting, telekinetic and telepathic abilities soon prove him wrong. After some ferocious high-speed chases and narrow escapes, with the robotic youngsters calmly murmuring, “It would appear we have not evaded them,” hot-shot driver Bruno is convinced that his passengers are not runaways but really aliens whose craft has been seized by Burke’s SWAT team and moved to a top-secret government installation hidden inside Witch Mountain. Plus there’s this nasty, intergalactic assassin, known as a Siphon, who’s pursuing them from their home planet.
Will Bruno and Dr. Friedman help the young space travelers reclaim their craft, go home and save their planet as well as Earth? You guess.
Inspired by Alexander Kay’s novel, which previously spawned “Escape to Witch Mountain” (1975) and “Return to Witch Mountain” (1978), Matt Lopez and Mark Bomback’s script is more action-oriented than its predecessors although devotees may spot the original child stars, Kim Richards and Iake Eissinmann, in cameos. Directed by Andy Fickman, it’s obviously contrived – but it’s also amusing, particularly with director/actor Garry Marshall as a rival extraterrestrial expert. Real-life cult writer Whitley Strieber (“Communion”) also attends the “You Will Believe” conference.
On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “Race to Witch Mountain” is an appealing, escapist 7 – it’s cornball sci-fi fun.