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Race to Witch Mountain Review – Soft Rock For a Younger Crowd

Race to Witch Mountain Review – Soft Rock For a Younger Crowd” width=”560″/>

Young ‘uns may not remember this, but once upon a time everyone was excited about an up-and-coming star who called himself “The Rock.” A charismatic professional wrestler attempting to make the transition to acting, this “Rock” was somehow both intimidating and affable as an action hero. It is now 2009 — our guy has ditched his wrestling identity and goes by the docile moniker “Dwayne Johnson.” His remaining fans dutifully trudge to see his latest offering, a kiddie scifi remake called Race to Witch Mountain. What they discover, to their horror, is that The Rock — excuse me, Dwayne Johnson — has ditched the very thing that convinced people he was something special: His ability to play a violent-but-likable badass.

Oh sure, Johnson busts a few heads in Race to Witch Mountain, here and there, in an emphatically PG-rated way. At one point his character — a con-turned-cab-driver named Jack Bruno — is even seen pummeling a punching bag in frustration. But mostly, he talks. And talks, and talks, and talks. Sometimes he rambles on incredulously, and other times lets loose with bursts of sassy Disney Channel sarcasm. The camera lingers on his face as he mugs for his paycheck. It’s stilted, and awkward, and painfully unfunny, and you realize that the man is grappling with his destiny. Slumming in a generic family offering may have seemed tempting amid a lack of projects that play to his strengths, but Johnson is a guy who was born to kick ass and take names.

The movie itself is the sort of earnest, haphazardly constructed kidflick that offers nothing for the over-12 set and not much for little ones who’ve seen a few real movies in their young lives. It’s empty calories: A theme park ride without the thrills. Johnson’s cab driver is recruited by a couple of just-arrived alien kids (AnnaSophia Robb and Alexander Ludwig) — who look just like a pair of suburban teenagers and speak perfect English but have some ill-defined superpowers like telepathy, telekinesis, and the ability to change one’s molecular density to walk through walls. They have to find their flying saucer, which has been stolen by shadowy federal agents, or else the Earth will die (there’s a convoluted explanation for why, delivered in an expository monologue midway through the movie, but I’ll spare you).

There’s some perfunctory action, some expensive-looking effects, but mostly a great deal of talking. The movie somehow manages to mangle the ’50s scifi cliché of humanoid aliens that speak with a stilted, overly formal syntax and cadence and winds up with lines like: “It is important we gain much distance from this location.” (Come again?) Then at convenient intervals, Witch Mountain stops for earnest, unmotivated speechifying about how humans are good-hearted and trustworthy after all, prompting a lot of eye-rolling.

Up next for Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson: Tooth Fairy, in which he plays a hockey player sentenced to spend one week as… the Tooth Fairy. What can I say? Maybe Tooth Fairy will be more absurd and less depressingly generic than Race to Witch Mountain. But I long for the days when The Rock threatened bad guys with baseball bats, and sometimes even swung.

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