| Baby boomer parents have the opportunity during spring break to take their youngsters on a nostalgic trip down memory lane.
Former pro wrestler Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson (“Get Smart” and “The Game Plan”) reunites with director Andy Fickman (“The Game Plan”) in this modern-day “reimagined” version of Alexander Key’s book that was made into the 1975 Walt Disney classic “Escape to Witch Mountain.”
The relaunch of this family-friendly franchise will especially appeal to kids under age 13 with cool, state-of-the-art special effects and breathtaking action sequences.
The charismatic Johnson plays Jack Bruno, a rough-and-tumble cab driver in Las Vegas. Two blond-haired kids appear out of nowhere in the back of his taxi with a wad of cash and an urgent desire to be transported to a destination described by longitude and latitude. Their speech patterns sound funny with a robotic delivery.
Sara (AnnaSophia Robb from “Bridge to Terabithia” and “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory”) and Seth (Alexander Ludwig from “The Seeker: The Dark is Rising”) look like ordinary teenagers, but they possess supernatural powers. Sara can read minds (telepathy) and move inanimate objects (telekinesis). Seth is able to change his molecular density. This shape-shifting ability allows him to become invisible or hard as metal so bullets cannot penetrate his body.
The kids are on an important fact-gathering mission. The fate of Earth and their home planet are at stake. Things get complicated because they are being chased by Homeland Security agent Henry Burke (Irish actor Ciaran Hinds from “There Will Be Blood,” “Munich” and “Rome”) and a heavily armed SWAT team. They are also being pursued by a Siphon, a 6-foot-6 Terminator-style humanoid hunting machine programmed to find and kill its target.
Former mob driver Bruno is sympathetic to the kids’ plight and becomes their brave brawling bodyguard.
This briskly paced movie takes off like a rocket with high-speed car chases and narrow escapes. The sign atop Bruno’s cab – “Life Comes At You Fast” – proves to be a perfect description.
The trio is joined by Dr. Alex Friedman (Carla Gugino from “Night at the Museum” and “Watchmen”), a beautiful and brainy astrophysicist giving a presentation at a UFO conference. The hotel sign welcoming the sci-fi attendees dressed in costume says “You Will Believe.” This should trigger a new round of speculation about extraterrestrial life.
The movie leads to an exciting conclusion that leaves open the distinct possibility for a sequel. This throwback to old-school Disney cinema has a simple plot pitting the good guys versus the bad. It demonstrates a sense of humor that adroitly mixes with the suspense. The desert landscape offers a nice contrast to the glitzy neon-lighted Sin City Strip. The movie also has a wonderful orchestral musical score that heightens the non-stop action.
Johnson anchors this entertaining rollercoaster ride. He puts to good use his brute strength and fast fists. Gugino is a delightful presence with a curvaceous figure that is easy on the eyes. Fickman was ironically born in Roswell, N.M., which was made infamous by a supposed crash of a UFO that the government and military covered up.
There are several clever links to the original 1975 movie. Kim Richards (aunt of Paris Hilton) and Iake Eissinmann (formerly spelled Ike Eisenmann), who played the original alien siblings Tia and Tony Malone, make cameo appearances. Kim plays a sympathetic waitress at a roadhouse in Stony Creek and Iake takes the role of the small town’s sheriff.
Cheech Marin is cast as the car mechanic Eddie (homage to Eddie Albert, who played the friendly camper Jason O’Day in the original movie). The coup de grace is the Winnebago motor home, previously owned and driven by Albert’s character back in 1975, that appears in several scenes. It belongs to Dr. Donald Harlan (Garry Marshall), an eccentric UFO specialist with a Bronx accent who tells Seth and Sara that their spaceship is hidden in an underground government testing facility located deep within a cavern of Witch Mountain.
Mr. Winky, the children’s black cat from the original film, has been replaced by a German shepherd named Junkyard (Buck from “Eight Below” and “Snow Dogs”).
If you have a fascination for unexplained phenomena and strange sightings, you cannot go wrong taking this fantastic journey that has heart, humor and a touch of magic.
Keith Cohen "The Movie Guy"