You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Race to Witch Mountain

A crowd-pleaser capable of grabbing auds who avoid anything that smacks of "family entertainment."

Jack Bruno - Dwayne Johnson Sara - AnnaSophia Robb Dr. Alex Friedman - Carla Gugino Burke - Ciaran Hinds Seth - Alexander Ludwig Matheson - Tom Everett Scott Carson - Billy Brown Eddie - Richard "Cheech" Marin Dr. Donald Harlan - Garry Marshall Tina - Kim Richards Sheriff Antony - Iake Eissinmann Whitley Strieber - Himself

Smartly positioned for maximum potential as a breakout spring hit with cross-generational appeal, “Race to Witch Mountain” is the sort of full-throttle crowd-pleaser capable of grabbing even teen and twentysomething ticketbuyers who normally avoid anything that smacks of “family entertainment.” There’s something for almost every demo here — including baby-boomers with fond memories of the original Disney-produced “Witch Mountain” pics of the 1970s — and the entire package is impressively propelled by the star-powered, likably comic-macho perf by Dwayne Johnson (formerly known as the Rock). Expect strong B.O. numbers, even stronger homevid sales and very early talk of a possible sequel.

Hyped as a “modern-day re-imagining” of the novel by Alexander Key — which previously inspired “Escape to Witch Mountain (1975) and its sequel “Return from Witch Mountain” (1978) — “Race” justifies its title by coming off as much more of a high-velocity action-adventure than its predecessors.

Helmer Andy Fickman (who previously teamed with Johnson on 2007’s “The Game Plan”) puts the pedal to the metal in the opening moments, as U.S. military and intelligence types rush to secure the Nevada desert site where a UFO has apparently crash-landed. Right from the start, it’s established that Burke (Ciaran Hinds), a Homeland Security agent, isn’t there to roll out the welcome mat for “illegal aliens.”

Meanwhile, off in nearby Las Vegas, ex-con cabbie Jack Bruno (Johnson) is trying to drive the straight and narrow path, despite efforts by mob goons to re-recruit him as a getaway driver. Fortuitously, Bruno picks up an attractive passenger, Dr. Alex Friedman (Carla Gugino), an astrophysicist who just happens to be in town to lecture at a UFO conference (which is amusingly attended by role-playing, wardrobe-wearing sci-fi geeks). Bruno gruffly dismisses the “nutjobs” who believe in visitations by otherworldly beings. This, of course, sets him up for some ironic enlightenment.

The next day, Bruno picks up two other passengers who scour him free of skepticism. During a series of high-speed chases and hairbreadth escapes, Sara (AnnaSophia Robb) and Seth (Alexander Ludwig) gradually reveal themselves as extraterrestrial visitors who fell to earth aboard the UFO, which was seized by Burke’s team and moved to a super-secret U.S. government installation hidden inside Witch Mountain.

The two human-looking teens are equipped with all manner of shape-shifting, mind-reading and telekinetic abilities, but they need Bruno’s help to avoid capture by Burke and his heavily armed SWAT team — and to avoid assassination by a Terminator-style hunter from their home planet.

“Race to Witch Mountain” strikes a deft balance of chase-movie suspense and wisecracking humor, with a few slam-bang action setpieces that would shame the makers of more allegedly grown-up genre fare. Fickman generously sprinkles witty wink-wink, nudge-nudge touches throughout, and the inevitable cameos by stars of the original “Witch Mountain” adventures, Kim Richards and Iake Eissinmann, are handled with sufficient finesse.

Script by Matt Lopez and Mark Bomback is unabashedly contrived, but the writers are clever enough to kid that contrivance. It may look and sound like a relationship-building throwaway bit, but the scene in which Bruno and Dr. Friedman discuss the ever-so-convenient coincidences that brought them together is self-referentially hilarious.

Johnson continues to flex his muscles as a charismatic screen presence, and here once again demonstrates his ego-free willingness to make himself the butt of jokes even as he does his derring-do.

Robb and Ludwig credibly suggest otherworldly temperaments without being too stiff about it, and Gugino is appealing as a standard-issue brainy beauty. Garry Marshall is the standout among the supporting players as a bestselling, surprisingly well-connected extraterrestrial expert who’s greeted at the UFO convention as some kind of superstar (not unlike real-life author Whitley Strieber, who’s fleetingly glimpsed among the conventioneers).

Special effects and other production values are first-class across the board, enabling auds to enjoy the pic as a serious sci-fi actioner as well as seriocomic family fare.

Race to Witch Mountain

Production: A Walt Disney Pictures release and presentation of a Gunn Films production. Produced by Andrew Gunn. Executive producers, Mario Iscovich, Ann Marie Sanderlin. Directed by Andy Fickman. Screenplay, Matt Lopez, Mark Bomback; screen story, Lopez, based on the novel by Alexander Key.

Read the original reviews:

Escape to Witch Mountain (1975)
Return from Witch Mountain (1978)

Crew: Camera (Deluxe color, widescreen), Greg Gardiner; editor, David Rennie; music, Trevor Rabin; music supervisor, Lisa Brown; production designer, David J. Bomba; art director, John R. Jensen; set designers, Aric Cheng, Lori Rowbotham Grant; set decorators, Patrick Cassidy, Kara Lindstrom; costume designer, Genevieve Tyrrell; sound (Dolby Digital/DTS/SDDS), Nelson Stoll; sound designers/supervising sound editors, Robert L. Sephton, Randle Akerson; re-recording mixers, Terry Porter, Dean A. Zupancic; special character effects, Alec Gillis, Tom Woodruff Jr.; executive visual effects supervisor, David Lingenfelser; visual effects and animation, Furious FX; stunt coordinator, Scott Rogers; associate producer, Amy Stenftenagel; assistant director, Geoff Hansen; second unit director, Scott Rogers; casting, Randi Hiller, Sara Finn. Reviewed at Edwards Marq*e Theatre, Houston, March 11, 2009. MPAA Rating: PG. Running time: 98 MIN.

Cast: Jack Bruno - Dwayne Johnson Sara - AnnaSophia Robb Dr. Alex Friedman - Carla Gugino Burke - Ciaran Hinds Seth - Alexander Ludwig Matheson - Tom Everett Scott Carson - Billy Brown Eddie - Richard "Cheech" Marin Dr. Donald Harlan - Garry Marshall Tina - Kim Richards Sheriff Antony - Iake Eissinmann Whitley Strieber - Himself

More Scene

  • Lilli Cooper Tootsie

    How the 'Tootsie' Musical Was Updated for the #MeToo Era

    Turning the beloved 1982 comedy “Tootsie” into a 21st century musical already seemed like a challenge when work on the adaptation began back in 2016. Then the #MeToo movement revved up — and the writers knew they couldn’t tell Dorothy’s story for a modern audience without it. “It’s different than it was when the movie [...]

  • Ralph Fiennes attends a special screening

    Ralph Fiennes on Directing Rudolf Nureyev Biopic: 'It's Been a Very, Very Long Road'

    Ralph Fiennes celebrated his latest directorial outing, “The White Crow,” on Monday night in New York City. The Sony Pictures Classics film tells the story of legendary dancer Rudolf Nureyev. “It’s been a very, very long road. We were mad. We were mad to take on this subject of Rudolf Nureyev. Mad. Completely mad,” Fiennes [...]

  • Taylor Swift Time 100 Performance

    Watch Taylor Swift's Time 100 Gala Performance and Speech

    Just two nights out from Taylor Swift D-day spring 2019 — i.e., Thursday’s release of a new single — Swift made an appearance Tuesday at the Time 100 event in New York, where she did not let loose with any spoiler performances of new music but did sing a few fan favorites, including “Style,” “Delicate,” and [...]

  • Katie HolmesAT&T Presents: Untold Stories Luncheon

    Katie Holmes, Kal Penn Help Decide Winner of $1 Million Filmmaker Grant

    Tribeca Film Festival and AT&T gave one young filmmaker a million and one reasons to rejoice at the “Untold Stories” third annual competition. After a nerve-wracking 10-minute long pitch in front of over 850,000 live stream audience members and a panel consisting of celebrities and industry leaders, filmmaker Kate Tsang was awarded $1 million Monday [...]

  • Laurie Metcalf, John Lithgow'Hillary and Clinton'

    Why John Lithgow Worried About Starring in Broadway's 'Hillary and Clinton'

    When Lucas Hnath first conceived of “Hillary and Clinton” in 2008, he was writing for and about a very different America. Now, a total reimagining of the show has made its way to Broadway with Laurie Metcalf and John Lithgow in the titular roles. At the opening on Thursday night, the cast and creatives talked [...]

  • Patrick Page, Amber Grey, Eva Noblezada,

    'Hadestown' Took 12 Years to Get to Broadway, but It's More Relevant Than Ever

    When “Hadestown” was first staged as a tiny, DIY theater project in Vermont, those involved could never have predicted that it was the start of a 12-year journey to Broadway — or how painfully relevant it would be when it arrived. At Wednesday night’s opening at the Walter Kerr Theatre, the cast and creatives discussed [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content