It’s always good when a children’s movie can impart wisdom while it entertains, and Race to Witch Mountain (2009) hammers home a vitally important life lesson for its young, impressionable audience: Sci-Fi nerds are worthless idiots, but cab-driving ex-cons are noble knights of the road who can be trusted implicitly. Hurrah!
For those who don’t know, this Disney action-adventure flick stars Dwayne “Not The Rock” Johnson as ‘Jack Bruno’, a former getaway driver for the mob, who has now gone straight, and ekes out a living driving a taxi around Las Vegas. When we first meet him, he’s being kept pretty busy by a big UFO convention, being held at the Planet Hollywood hotel. His first fare of the day is a pair of “wacky” Star Wars fans dressed up as Imperial Stormtroopers, who dick around in the backseat with their laser-guns… although it’s never explained why they would be interested in such an event, since the Star Wars movies don’t have anything to do with spaceships visiting Earth… it would have made far more sense for them to be Trekkies on a “First Contact” tip, no? Anyhoo, his next passenger is Dr. Alex Friedman (Carla Gugino), a smokin’ hot astrophysicist who is a featured speaker at the convention, and seems to take the subject very seriously. Incidentally, it was a bit silly of them to give her a gender-neutral name, because it serves no plot/joke purpose, and as she’s exiting the cab she hands him a pamphlet by way of introduction, and he somehow manages to instantly zero in on her name and read it aloud, despite there being a bunch of other names listed on there… but, whatever. Maybe he’s just a really quick reader? His final fare is a couple of creepy blonde kids who couldn’t give a crap about the UFO convention… mainly because they’re real live extra-terrestrials with super-special powers, on an urgent mission to save our world from imminent destruction, while being pursued by both a ruthless government agency, and a relentless alien assassin. Oh, and Jack’s old buddies from the mob, of course. Eep!
To be honest, I found the whole thing pretty un-engaging… like watching someone else play a video game for an hour and a half. There are a lot of elaborate stunts, and fancy SFX, and theoretically tense stand-offs, but it’s impossible to care about any of the characters, or even the fate of their fictional Earth. It probably didn’t help that the two alien kids had such a dorky way of talking… maybe this is just a personal thing, but it always bugs me when characters do not use contractions. It’s “don’t”, dammit! Not “do not”! I mean, it takes a lot to undermine AnnaSophia Robb’s inherent adorability, but her habit of calling him “Jack Bruno” by his full name every time she spoke to him was exceptionally irritating. I guess it’s forgivable for the visitors-from-another-world to seem a little inhuman at first, but Jack is supposed to be the scrappy, sympathetic centre of the movie, and he’s little more than a lightly sketched cliché! He has muscles and a car and a criminal past… and that’s it. That’s all there is to him. Meh. I’ll admit I did warm-up to Alex after a while, but I’d attribute that more to Gugino’s performance than the actual writing… plus my natural bias towards her, I guess.
I’m not sure why I was so annoyed by all the geeksploitation scenes, since I’m not actually a hardcore Sci-Fi fan myself… maybe just nerd-solidarity? It just seemed a rather odd tack to take, considering that this movie was aimed (to some extent) at the very demographic it was mocking. Like spitting in someone’s face as you hand them a complimentary cocktail, it sent out a rather mixed message.