I’ll be honest, I have a soft spot for the 1970s Disney films “Escape to Witch Mountain” and “Return from Witch Mountain.”
Sure, both films are pretty cheesy (although there is something strangely cool about Bette Davis and Christopher Lee), but they are among my first movie memories - and remain charming in my eyes (even if I really know better).
Now Disney has decided to mess with my childhood with “Race to Witch Mountain” - a re-imagining from Disney that is less about the kids and more about showcasing the growing popularity of Dwayne Johnson (also known as the former WWE wrestler “The Rock”).
Johnson does all he can to carry the film, but ultimately “Race” is stuck in neutral - spinning its wheels with one mind-numbing sequence after another.
Johnson plays Jack Bruno, a Las Vegas cab driver who gets more than he bargains for when he picks up siblings, played by AnnaSophia Robb and Alexander Ludwig, who are aliens from another world.
It turns out the kids are trying to find their way back to the their spaceship, so Jack enlists the help of a UFO expert (Carla Gugino) to protect them from government agents and an intergalactic bounty hunter - both intent on thwarting the kids’ plans.
Director Andy Fickman worked with Johnson in the former wrestler’s last starring role “The Game Plan” and it is obvious that the pair share a lot of trust.
Johnson continues his transition from wrestling superstar to movie star with another agreeable performance that perfectly captures his charm and charisma.
But, just as he was in “The Game Plan,” Johnson is stuck in a movie that fails to appeal across the board. I’m sure kids will enjoy the alien story (my son certainly did), but adults will probably get bored - especially when they start to realize that chase sequence Z is a lot like chase A.
While the rest of the cast isn’t bad, with the exception of Gugino, no one else stands out.
That leaves Johnson with the unenviable task of carrying this bland film on his rather broad shoulders - something he nearly pulls off.
It’s a feat that continues to establish Johnson as a bankable movie star (the film opened at No. 1). Here’s hoping the actor takes the next step and starts to find projects that are more worthy of his rising star status.
DVD dandy of the week
This week’s dandy is “Bolt” (B) - a sharp, witty Disney film with something for audiences of all ages.
“Bolt” tells the story of a canine named Bolt (voiced by John Travolta), who is the star of a fictional smash TV show. Unfortunately, Bolt believes the show is real and he is actually a superhero.
When Bolt is accidentally shipped to New York City, he sets off on a cross-country journey to return home and rescue his longtime owner Penny (voiced by Miley Cyrus).
Travolta proves to be the perfect choice to voice Bolt, bringing an energy level that really fits the canine’s character.
Cyrus is OK, but her character is actually secondary to some nice supporting roles that rival the penguins from “Madagascar.”
Susie Essman brings spunk and charm to her character Mittens, a cat that reluctantly hooks up with Bolt, but Mark Walton nearly steals the film as the overzealous hamster named Rhino.
I also enjoyed the script’s little details. There are some inside Hollywood-type gags that the kids might miss but adults will love. I also found the running gag of regionalized pigeons to be an inspired bit.
The film is also a feast for the eyes - which will unfortunately lose some of its luster on the small screen.
“Bolt” does have its problems. The film starts to sag in the middle, and I think the final act might be too intense for younger children.
Those are minor gripes, however. For the most part, “Bolt” works and gives families a chance to have a family night all can enjoy.
“Bolt” is rated PG for some mild action and peril and is now available on DVD.
— Sportswriter/movie reviewer Micheal Compton, whose own race to Witch Mountain was mired in scandal after accusations of performance-enhancing drugs, can be reached by e-mailing firstname.lastname@example.org