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RACE TO WITCH MOUNTAIN
Blu-ray Edition

Review by Michael Jacobson

Stars:  Dwayne Johnson, AnnaSophia Robb, Alexander Ludwig, Carla Cugino, Ciaran Hinds, Garry Marshall
Director:  Andy Fickman
Audio:  DTS HD 5.1
Video:  Anamorphic Widescreen 2.40:1
Studio:  Walt Disney
Features:  See Review
Length:  99 Minutes
Release Date:  August 4, 2009

“You do know how to fly this thing, right?”

“How did you think we got here?”

“Well…you crashed.  Remember?”

Film **

Isn’t it kind of interesting that former pro wrestler The Rock, now going by his given name of Dwayne Johnson, has become the go-to guy for Disney films?  Maybe no more so than Cheech Marin, who has been popping up in Disney movies for nearly two decades, and does so again here.  Both men seemed to have found a comfortable new niche for themselves.

Johnson has been a surprisingly good choice for the family-friendly studio.  He seems to work great with kids and animals, and has no qualms about self-deprecating humor.  And having him star in a third installment in Disney’s classic and enduring Witch Mountain franchise seemed like a good idea, particularly since re-teaming him with Andy Fickman, his director on The Game Plan.  However, Race to Witch Mountain is essentially a sprinter running a marathon…it goes for broke in the opening half and then has nothing left in the gas tank.

Johnson plays Jack Bruno, a Las Vegas cab driver with a shady past…he used to drive for the mob, but a stint in jail has caused him to go straight, much to the disapproval of his former bosses.  But now, he has a bigger problem, when two blond teens named Sara (Robb) and Seth (Ludwig) show up in the back of his taxi, with a huge wad of cash, a strange manner of speech, and a desire to be driven way out into the desert.

The problem?  Sara and Seth are being chased by some very powerful people.  For those familiar with the Witch Mountain stories, it’s no surprise to learn that these two clean-cut kids are from another world, and trying to get back there on a mission to save both their planet and ours.  The incredulous Jack is their best hope, but he’s not alone…he enlists the help of Dr. Alex Friedman (Cugino), a UFO expert who has been trying to cut through the culture and hype of extraterrestrial visitations and get down to the science of it.

As mentioned, the opening half of the movie pulls no punches, and delivers action that stands easily alongside any summer blockbuster you can think of.  Car chases and stunts are plentiful, and if you aren’t pumped by the sight of a cab playing chicken with a train racing toward a tunnel exit, you should check your meds.

But the problem is from that point on, the movie fizzles and feels kind of listless.  We are shown that Sara can move objects with her mind, and Seth can change his molecular density at will…why then aren’t they given cooler things to do with their powers?  Remember the first two movies when we saw a Winnebago fly, buses levitate and a museum exhibit come to life?  Here, Seth gets to stop a pursuing car the same way The Thing did in Fantastic Four, and…that’s pretty much it.

By the time the movie starts propelling toward it’s conclusion, it feels like too little, too late, and offers nothing in the way of a surprise.  Andy Fickman purports to be a fan of the franchise, and talks a little like a truly geeked-out fan boy in the extras, but did he not notice that after a spectacular opening stretch, the momentum escapes?

The cast is perfectly suitable, and the few special effects are serviceable.  And I think making a new Witch Mountain movie in today’s time with more modern filmmaking technologies available was a good idea.  Race to Witch Mountain could have worked, but after burning all of its fuel at once, it can only cruise from that point on.

BONUS TRIVIA:  Look for original Witch Mountain stars Kim Richards and Ike Eisenmann in small but extremely welcome roles.

Video ***1/2

This is a mostly top-notch high definition transfer from Disney.  The action in the early stretch renders beautifully in 1080p, with sharpness, clarity and detail, and I personally will never get tired of how beautiful Las Vegas looks on Blu-ray.  Night scenes exhibit a little more grain, and one shot in particular was striking in how images suddenly seemed rather muted, but it’s a very brief flaw that merits a mention, but doesn’t really diminish the overall enjoyment.

Audio ***1/2

The DTS HD audio again offers plenty of bang for your buck during the early stretch, and again at the end.  The chases make all channels come alive with dynamic range and smooth crossovers, and spoken words are well balanced against the effects and Trevor Rabin’s music score.  In the middle, it seems a little more listless, but the bookend pieces really show what uncompressed audio is capable of delivering.

Features **

For a three disc Blu-ray set, this one’s a little disappointing in the extras department.  Disc Two is just the DVD of the movie, and Disc Three is for a digital copy.  On the actual Blu-ray, you get a short blooper reel, 9 deleted scenes with optional Andy Fickman introduction, and a brief look at Fickman’s in-jokes in the movie that reference the first two films. 

Summary:

Race to Witch Mountain is like being on an incredible roller coaster for a while, and then once the ride is over, being forced to sit there for another 45 minutes.  A new installment in the franchise was more than welcome in my book, but this one just runs out of energy and crashes way too soon.

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