THE SCREENING ROOM
By Bill KallayBeing middle-aged kind of sucks. The hair starts leaving your head. The gray hair takes over where black hair once stood proudly. Your stomach isn't flat anymore. And Hollywood can't leave the films of your youth alone. They have to go in and supposedly improve and update your films with lots of action and cool visual effects. Why, oh, why do these things have to happen?
"Race to Witch Mountain" is now available on Blu-ray.
Dwayne "Formerly Known As The Rock" Johnson is a charismatic actor. He seems like he has a great time hamming it up in the movies he's in. He has a natural screen presence. Yet in this movie, he's thrust into a cliché ridden story.
The original 1970s "Witch Mountain" movies weren't exactly great movies to begin with. The visual and special effects were cheesy and the plots were silly. But what they did have was charm. Kim Richards and Ike Eisenmann were likable kids and we cheered for them as they outwitted the bad guys. There weren't any references to violence, no guns, no fist fights. It was innocent fun. The re-imagining doesn't have the charm nor is it original in how it's executed.
The screenwriters tossed out most of the elements of the original films. Now the cranky old man, played by Eddie Albert in the 1975 film "Escape from Witch Mountain," is replaced by muscle bound stud taxi driver, Dwayne Johnson. Instead of a nice RV, we get a snappy looking taxi cab with an insurance company's billboard on top of the car blatantly showing in every scene. Yes, I'm aware that Las Vegas taxi cabs come screaming with ads. Still, the ad looks like it's placed and framed just right for product placement! And true to the originality of today's hot screenwriters, Johnson's name is Jack. I'm sure it could've been Jake, because those are the names that seem to be used a lot in movies. The script also calls for the standard government agents in black suits with sunglasses, helicopters and SUV's chasing after the kids and Johnson. Oh, and there's a Predator/Terminator "Assassin" alien after the kids, too.
The telekinetic kids are nicely played by AnnaSophia Robb & Andrew Ludwig, but they speak-in-stilted-alien-come-to-Earth talk. Kim and Ike spoke like normal everyday kids, and I think that's one of the reasons why they worked so well. I didn't feel any peril or warmth in my heart for these kids in danger. They go around the movie using their special alien powers to blow up the government cars, open doors and do some cool things. Yet why can't they just blow the Assassin away and get to Witch Mountain without much of a problem? Just hop into one of the helicopters and use your alien mind powers to fly there.
The kids in the original films, Tony & Tia, showed their childlike side. They got scared. They cried a little. They liked toys and ice cream. In "Race," the kids, Seth & Sara, are older and supposedly smarter and more mature. They just want to get to their destination like so many fares do. That's one of the problems of this movie. Seth & Sara are played too cold, too distant. They're perhaps too old. It isn't until the end of the movie, in a thin disguise of trying to pull out the tears, that the movie shows any heart. The movie, in general, feels like a crazy quilt of different references to other movies. It never becomes its own entity.
Johnson is his usual charming self, and that's a good thing. Unfortunately the script lets him down with a silly subplot about his criminal past that really doesn't go anywhere. I think Eddie Albert did a more convincing job as a person who didn't want to bothered by meddling kids. Kudos go out to the cameos by Kim Richards & Ike Eisenmann. They don't feel out of place in the film and it's nice to see them now all grown up (they're a little bit older than me). It was nice to see Kim Richards again and reconfirm my childhood crush on her. Ah, what a cutie in middle age! Too bad the movie didn't do her and the rest of the fine cast justice.
Though the movie isn't really violent, it was kind of unnerving to see so many guns firing and bullets flying. It was also strange to see a few fist fights in a Disney movie. As an audience member, I didn't like seeing the film turned into a standard action flick. Granted, Disney was different when I was growing up. In fact, most of the films the studio made then were pretty bad. But they weren't loaded with bullets and clichéd car chases. Times are different, but to me, if guns and fights are going to be a Disney movie, it should be in one of the period pieces like "Davy Crockett." Hey! Maybe Disney can remake that, too! Okay, I'm being a smart alec, but I wouldn't put it past the studio.
Andy Finkman's direction comes short. He did a credible and moving job on "The Game Plan," which was a perfect example of how to make a Disney movie and still keep it relevant. So it's probably a rare misstep that "Race" is loaded with predictability.
The Trevor Rabin score has a totally '80s sound to it, and frankly, it was nearly as obnoxious as the score in the 1985 film, "Ladyhawke." The score sounds as if it was made for a low budget kiddie flick. Don't get me wrong; I loved Rabin's work with the group Yes in how that band remade itself in the early-1980s. I just don't care for his synthesizer movie scores of today.
The Blu-ray picture is excellent, though the nighttime scenes show grain. The grain is either from the digital intermediate transfer (I didn't see the movie theatrically), or most likely from the Blu-ray compression. It's not bad, but it is there in plain sight. The daytime scenes are sharp with detail, showing hints of film grain.
The DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack is excellent and loud. For a kid's flick, there are some minor surprise bangs on the soundtrack that might make them jump. Dialogue is clearly rendered, as are the sound effects and music. It's not one of the better mixes I've heard recently, but it gets the job done.
As my daughter would say, this isn't her dad's "Witch Mountain." If it's any consolation, she couldn't sit through the first 20-minutes of this movie. If you're going to update or remake a movie, just don't throw in cheap references to the original to please Generation X-ers with "Where's Waldo" type gags. Remember the charm of the originals, and don't lose that.
Special thanks to Click Communications
Photos: © BVHE. All rights reserved.