‘Witch Mountain’ redo more action than adventure

Dana Barbuto

In “Race to Witch Mountain,” wrestler-turned-actor Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson ditches the pink tutu from “The Game Plan” and gets back to what he’s built to do: kick butt.

It’s not a full-blown smack down, because director Andy Fickman (who teamed up with Johnson on “The Game Plan”) straddles the line between family flick and adult action-adventure.

The save-the-world plot is basic, but the action is grownup. There are guns, explosions, car chases and punches, but no bloodshed. After all, this is Disney, and “Race to Witch Mountain” is a re-imagined (Fickman’s word, not mine) version of the studio’s 1975 charmer “Escape to Witch Mountain.”

Too bad the retelling isn’t as fun as the original, which centered around two psychic orphans riding around in a Winnebago with an old codger played by Eddie Albert. Fickman’s installment into the Witch Mountain lore is more action and less adventure.

In “Race to Witch Mountain,” Jack Bruno (Johnson) is a surly Las Vegas cabbie that hates his job and his life. Things pick up when he meets Seth (Alexander Ludwig, “The Seeker: The Dark Is Rising”) and Sara (AnnaSophia Robb, “Because of Winn Dixie,” “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory”), teens with supernatural powers that show up in his cab with a wad of cash and a request to be driven deep into the Nevada desert. They forget to mention, however, that an alien assassin is hunting them, as well as government agents led by the steel-eyed Ciarán Hinds (“Munich”), stealing every scene he’s in as the dastardly agent Henry Burke.

A course set for adventure is essentially a platform for Johnson to flex his muscles. It evolves into one ridiculous car chase and loud explosion after the next, with Johnson doing his own stunts. Not once do you ever fear for the kids or even care where they are going (Witch Mountain to get their spaceship), or worse, why they are in such a panic to get there. The lack of chemistry between the usually delightful Robb and her onscreen brother, Ludwig, is distracting. What ‘tween siblings never squabble, especially if they are on the mission to save their planet?

To help the kids, Bruno enlists the help of scientist Dr. Alex Friedman (Carla Gugino), whom he serendipitously met while taxiing her to the UFO Space Expo at (product-placement alert!) Planet Hollywood. Gugino, also starring in another fantasy flick “Watchmen,” is also the implied love interest for Bruno, and not much more. Heck, Tom Everett Scott as a lower-level government thug has more to do than Gugino.

In a nod to the first film, original child stars Kim Richards and Lake Eissinmann make cameos, and Garry Marshall as Friedman’s rival junk scientist lends his Winnebago for the final stretch.

The movie is at its best when Johnson is beating up bad guys; it’s at its worst when he tries to be dramatic. Can’t complain about the pacing, though, as the film moves along at a good clip; it is, after all, a race, and it moves like one.

Lacking any Disney-like imagination, the story becomes rote and the ending obvious. What’s more, the door is left open for a sequel. At least do the next one in 3-D.

Reach Patriot Ledger writer Dana Barbuto at dbarbuto@ledger.com.